07 January 2012

Standing in the Corner

Last year, a relatively unknown December 1948 portrait (below), of Marlene by Irving Penn, surfaced -- probably taken in Vogue's New York studios, it is one of his "corner studies".

Other subjects photographed in this fashion included the Duchess of Windsor, Noel Coward, Truman Capote and Spencer Tracy (the Tracy shot is used on the cover of James Curtis' new biography on the actor).

To Penn, this set-up was "a means of closing people in. Some people felt secure in this spot, some felt trapped. Their reaction made them quickly available to the camera," according to

Whatever Penn's motivations may have been, Dietrich was not pleased with the result and refused the release of photos from this session -- although "Mutti" privately gave a print to her husband as a Christmas gift that year.

Christie's also auctioned some alternate shots from this shoot in April 2011 (right).

Shots from an previous shoot by Penn (also in 1948), have been widely published:


  1. Stunning and dramatic portraits!

  2. Dietrich may have had other reasons for disliking these photos, but the featured photo makes her look pear-shaped (especially because of the way her outfit blends in with the shadows), she appears to have a cankle, and her hands look detached from her body. It's almost like someone's bent down behind her and putting his hands on her hips. The face, however, is perfection, and the way Dietrich leans creates the illusion that the corner curves behind her. The Spencer Tracy photo also distorts dimensions, as if Tracy's sliding down the wall.

  3. Oh, I just saw two Capote and Wallis Simpson photos by Irving Penn and will add that the former looks like he's trying too hard (although the distorted dimensions are there) and the latter, who already had to work with an unphotogenic puss, looks like an amputee.

  4. Joseph make razor sharp observations!!

  5. Thanks, umaneo. The powers that be must have punished me for speaking ill of the Duchess because I caught a cold soon after typing that.

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