George Hurrell
David Soul, c.1982
Silver gelatin print

Courtesy of the Pancho BarnesTrust Estate Archive

Hurrell’s Men

October 1 – December 31, 2005

The work of George Hurrell (1904-1992) has become synonymous with the unblemished and stylized perfection of the Hollywood portrait. From his early success as chief photographer for MGM Studios in the 1930s to his nostalgic resurgence at the end of his career, Hurell’s photographs defined the genre for over six decades and continue to exert their influence today. They have come to typify the visual assumptions that one carries when one speaks of the Hollywood studio system or conjures the spell of “star quality.”

The Hurrell portrait is at once idealized yet attainable; perfected yet understandable; iconic yet intimate. His innovative use of light and shadow, his uncanny vocabulary if angle and crop, and the seemingly fragile moments that he, and by extension we the viewers, share with his celebrity subjects are typical of Hurrell’s style at its finest. While his subjects are draped within an exquisite sensuality, unblemished perfection, and immaculate styling, there is always an underlying emotional connection with his subjects: a psychological and personal point of entry that renders the physical perfection palatable. Hurrell’s celebrity images- whether male or female – became the exemplars for successive generations of stars and their fans. Theirs was an allure to be imitated, a perfection to be attained, an attitude to be assumed.

Hurrell is most often associated with the cinematic divas of the 1930s and 40s. His images of Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Jean Harlow have come to define Glamour both inside and outside of Hollywood . But the unmistakable Hurell touch was also brought to bear on the male stars of Hollywood . They, too, benefited from the magic available through his lens. His visual vocabulary, while always remaining “quintessentially Hurrell,” is expanded in his portraits of men to incorporate a raw energy that is not readily apparent in his images of women. From the androgynous perfection of Ramon Navarro to the brutish bulk of Wallace Beery, the tailored elegance of Robert Montgomery or the classic profile of John Barrymore, Hurrell’s men exude an unmistakable masculine energy balanced by the perfection of surface. They transgress the boundaries that usually separate masculinity form glamour. Sensuous and sophisticated, Hurrell’s images of men translate his well-documented portrait stylizations of women into a totally new cultural and contextual realm. They reflect the shifting perceptions and curious interactions of masculinity, glamour, and the Hollywood studio system.

George Hurrell
Wallace Beery , c.1982

Silver gelatin print
Courtesy of the Pancho Barnes
Trust Estate Archive