Shoppe Talk ~ Vintage Boudoir Inspiration ~ Part Two
Vintage Boudoir Inspiration ~ Part Two
Hello, and welcome to the second installment of our survey of Alfred Cheney Johnston’s work. I hope our last look at Johnston’s use of props stirred your creative pot. In this post, we’ll be highlighting his signature use of draped fabric.
Even though the detailed stage costumes of the Girls were amazing creative works in themselves, Johnston didn’t really like them. He used them when he had to, but preferred the softness of the natural female form. In the book Jazz-Age Beauties (by Robert Hudovernik), Johnston is quoted as saying “I believe few things are more beautiful than the human body. I tried to suggest nudity, but in such a way that it couldn’t be seen.” His personal style was quite classic, using the soft, natural light of his studio, and the drape of fabric.
This is a portrait of Norma Shearer, circa 1917. She was a motion picture actress, known as “The First Lady of the Screen.”
This image is a bit of a contrast to those in the previous post, and gives us a hint of Johnston’s ability to work in various ways. Here, Shearer is simply draped in dark velvet. High quality velvet is a wonderful fabric to work with in this context, because it is so broad and soft in its drape, and it absorbs and reflects light with a similar look to bare skin. In this image, the darkness of the velvet causes a visual division of the form into positive and negative space, while still quietly modeling the draped part of the body. The simple compositional lines, soft light, and pensive gesture of the subject combine to portray a quiet, intimate moment.
This next photograph is of actress Adrienne Ames, in full drape. While Johnston often recycled props and poses, this image is one that I haven’t seen another rendition of. I imagine that this was never pulled out of the hat again because it was hard to set up! Good satin, while having supreme draping properties, is quite difficult to work with because it is so slick. It slips off the body, and slips off itself. However, its fluidity and radiance can be well worth the trouble.
Johnston used the limited light-latitude of film to his advantage, and would often make his exposures so that the darkest visible shadows would “disappear.” This allowed for Ames to appear as if she were floating, and allowed for the bright satin to infuse the image with excitement and drama.
In today’s last portrait, depicting Ms. Gladys Glad, Johnston used a variety of embroidered and beaded shawls to drape his subject. He even utilized a long ostrich plume to drape over her body.
As in the portrait of Adrienne Ames, there is a lot of draping occurring below and around the subject. This time, however, we see the fabric not only draping around her body, but draping over and accumulating on the bench and floor. This adds a lot of structure to the figure, as well as a bit of mystery. The draping is so well done, that it works with Glad’s gesture to keep the eye moving around the image.
Alright, folks—stay tuned for the last segment of our little survey of the portraiture of Alfred Cheney Johnston on Friday!
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