Apologies for the radio silence. I am hard at work on a manuscript that needs to be done by the end of February to be out next fall.
But I wanted to share the sensational news that Life Magazine has opened its photography archives.
This gives us an extraordinary opportunity to tour American culture. I for one will be wandering the halls of this archive this holiday season.
To the right is a photograph by Nina Leen. It shows Mr. and Mrs. Benot in Macy's Department Store in 1949. Mr. Benot looks on (and holds purse) while Mrs. Benot tries on a knock-off of Rita Hayworth's wedding dress.
It makes the heart ache. The expressions of the Benot's, the depth of the moment, the delicacy of the image, as something comes streaming out of Hollywood into the lives of these "average" Americans.
Hat's off to Google, Life and Macy's for their willingness to share this holiday season
For more from Google and Life, go here.
It’s a beautiful photograph. Two things strike me: (1) the wedding dress in not white, which points to the surprising newness of the “traditional” white wedding; (2) the Benots seem “ordinary” in a way that few people are these days. I think we’re now all part of some sub-culture, whereas they seem not to be, at least not consciously.
Why do you find this image so heartbreaking?
Daniel is right. People used to wear their best dress or suit for weddings, but didn’t buy special one-occasion dresses. Fashion historians trace widespread adoption of white wedding dresses in the US to the movie, Father of the Bride. Wearing your mother’s or grandmother’s white wedding gown was a way to show off your status as old money elite.
Before fast fashion and cheap imports, US women bought one or two dresses a year. Or they might have made one and bought one. Some would never have store-bought dresses. Mrs. Benot looks merely thoughtful because this is a big decision for her.
I think the dress and shoes look lovely and I would be proud to wear them today.
It’s so hard to find nicely set pleats now that they old guard has mostly retired. There is only one retail pleater left in my hometown of LA.
Great candid shot of people going about their everyday shopping. He seems to be in complete raport with his wife.
Thank you for sharing that.
For me this brings back memories of being dragged around the shops as a kid, not my fondest memories but truly excellent news if the photo archives are being made available
@Grace – I didn’t realise that, that white dresses are a relatively recent phenomenon. I suppose it’s a bit like the red chubby Father Christmas that is a Coke marketing tool from the turn of the century (1900’s not 2000’s :D)
I always enjoy the documentary work of the 30/40/50’s – it was an age that looks so much like it could be today, but is utterly removed from modern life.