From Laguna to Hollywood

Curator of museum's new exhibit calls photographer's movie star images 'like gods and goddesses.'

February 28, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • A self-portrait under his classic Hollywood-style signature opens the "George Hurrell: Laguna to Hollywood" show at the Laguna Art Museum.
A self-portrait under his classic Hollywood-style signature… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Joan Crawford. Katharine Hepburn. Loretta Young and Tyrone Power.

Pre-moustache Clark Gable.

A very young and dapper Ray Milland.

The list of Tinseltown's glitterati continues.

Movie buffs interested in striking photos of the glittering ones would do well to take in "George Hurrell: Laguna to Hollywood" at the Laguna Art Museum until April 28.

Black-and-white and sepia-toned photos Hurrell made of movieland's icons trace the artist's creative journey between 1925 and 1944, though Hurrell's run at glamour photography spanned more than six decades. Thirty-four images of the 72 on display come from the museum's permanent collection, while the rest are on loan from biographer Mark A. Vieira and collector Lou D'Elia.

Born in Cincinnati, Hurrell was a young boy when his family moved to Chicago. Growing up, he enjoyed photography, which provided an income to support his education, while harboring dreams of becoming a painter. A lecture by and conversation with California artist Edgar Payne had the 21-year-old Hurrell, a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, veering westward in 1925.


Staying at a Laguna Beach cottage known as the Paint Box on Ramona Avenue until a fire broke out on March 1, 1926, Hurrell connected with the local community, including William Griffith, William Wendt and Florence Lowe Barnes. A familiar face at parties, he served as a portrait photographer for the area's local artists.

Backed by these friendships, Hurrell experimented with his 8-inch-by-10-inch view camera and tripod, using only natural light. Although he was only able to paint from time to time, his training in art influenced his visual aesthetic, with subjects artfully draped and their anatomy, from their cheekbones to the curves of their bodies, dramatized by the use of the light.

"Studios in the '30s were really pushing glamour," said Janet Blake, the Laguna Art Museum's 14-year curator of early California art. "The motion picture industry was trying to make people forget about the Depression. So, you have these fantasy movies and stars dressed like gods and goddesses. Part of Hurrell's work was what the studios wanted, but it became his specialty, since he really looked with an artist's eye. It is amazing to look at his creation of lights and darks."

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