George Hurrell was one of the greatest portrait photographers of Hollywood's Golden Age. His strong contrast black and white images and groundbreaking use of negative retouching revolutionized the medium of Hollywood portraiture during the 1930s and 1940s. This lavish book captures the enduring glamour of his photography and presents the very finest reproductions of his work yet seen in print. It features several unseen images of cinema's most iconic faces. All images have been taken from The Kobal Collection. One of the most distinguished archives of classic Hollywood imagery in the world, it has the largest collection of Hurrell material in existence.
The Movie-Star Photographer Who Helped Make Nostalgia Cool
George Hurrell's pictures of classic Hollywood came into vogue in the '70s. A recent book shows that in our image-obsessed, backwards-focused moment, he's taken on new resonance.
George Hurrell's black-and-white photographs of movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s are as voluptuous as the medium gets. Looking upon the 71 performers included in Reel Art Press's recently published coffee table-sized Hurrell: The Kobal Collection triggers a lot of complicated nostalgia. Take the image of James Cagney in cowboy wear, taken in 1939 for his first western, The Oklahoma Kid. He'd only make a couple more westerns, and it's clear why--today, it's delightfully off to see Mr. Urban Irish Take No Shit Himself in that getup. But that bemusement only lasts a second, because the image is perfectly posed, in every way: the soft slope of Cagney's hat; the wariness of his hooded eyes (wariness seen on ranges rather than in alleys); his left elbow a perfect L; and the killer touch, a cigarette held near his lips, like a little radio microphone. It's unreal, but it's utterly convincing: Hurrell in a nutshell.
The Kobal Collection is named for John Kobal, a journalist and Hollywood photo collector who stumbled onto Hurrell in person while on assignment to cover the filming of 1970's X-rated bomb adaptation of Gore Vidal's Myra Breckenridge. Hurrell was shooting stills on-set, and a friendship developed. Kobal became a Hollywood-stills archivist and historian, eventually authoring and editing 30 books, and his single-mindedness helped force collectors to take Hurrell (and colleagues such as Clarence Sinclair Bull and Ted Allen) seriously. He didn't create a market for those images, but he did help to give them art-world credibility
Cultural reconsiderations take time and exposure, even now, especially in the popular arts. Take the Sight & Sound recent greatest-movies poll,