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Hollywood Still Lifes

“Still Life”, Hollywood color photographs made for promotional use by movie studios between 1940 and 1970 will be on view at Fraenkel Gallery, 55 Grant Ave. The exhibition provides a rare and amusing opportunity to explore an aspect of post-war American popular culture through previously unknown and unpublished photographs. The exhibition is a result of two years of research by Diane Keaton (an actress and cinema enthusiast) and Marvin Heiferman (the former director of Castelli Graphics in New York) through studio archives, basements, and photographer’s files. The visual elements of the moving picture are isolated in many of the production stills on view providing a different experience from observing the films themselves. These pictures, as well as those of movie stars at home, including Dana Andrews, Ann Blyth, Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan, present a cross section of the Hollywood myth-making process and offer an interesting commentary on American cultural aspirations.

Marvin Heiferman writes in his essay from the accompanying book Still Life:

From the very beginning, the undeniable power of the movies was understood by the people who made them. There might always be fans who’d attend the movies religiously, but the larger, exploitable audience and the greater profit required elaborately planned seductions. Publicity departments and independent agencies were founded to manufacture curiosity, to institutionalize the arousal of desire. Years ago (before TV, fancy distribution deals and videotapes), movies were thought to have one life only…And so to celebrate the birth of almost every feature film, an eager public was bombarded with advertising, promotional novelties, gossip, and journalism and, always, lots and lots of pictures.

The photographs comment, in a backhanded way, on much of contemporary photography, especially the work which falls into the “directorial” (eg: Cindy Sherman, Duane Michaels, Eileen Cowin) or “fabricated” (eg: Robert Cummings, Les Krims, Ellen Brooks, Lucas Samaras) aesthetic.