These photographs would never please the architects, who want blueprints, but I wanted to interpret ancient buildings and ancient sites, and glamorize them, just as I had done with beautiful women.”George Hoyningen-Huene

Swimwear by Izod

The photographer is George Hoyningen-Huene (pronounced hoy-nee-HAN hoo-NAY), and the picture is ”Swimwear by Izod,” (opening photo, top row first one on the left) taken in 1930 for Vogue.

This iconic photograph is not at all what it’s seen to be. The couple appears to be sitting on a diving board with the ocean and sky as the background. The gentleman in the photo is Horst Bohrmann who would become the famous photographer of fashion Horst P. Horst. The romantic scene by the sea is in fact a stack of boxes on the roof of Vogue’s Paris studio. The horizon is the top of the building’s wall surrounding the roof. Below that wall is the Champs-Élysées.

Coco Chanel

As a fashion photographer, Huene (as he was known) related most of all to Coco Chanel who once said, “I was the first to live the life of this century.”

She invented the little black dress, the jersey pullover, the cardigan jacket, quilted bag and costume jewelry with the idea that if a woman felt good she would be free to concentrate on things other than what she was wearing. Huene understood this relaxed air of freedom by putting his models in real props like cars so as he put it, “the modern woman is the true light of the period.”

On Photography: George Hoyningen-Huene, 1900-1968
George Hoyningen-Huene 1935 by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Baron George Hoyningen-Huene

Huene was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia the only son of Baron Theodor Hermann von Hoyningn-Huene and Emily Anne Lothrop during the Russian Revolution. He went with his family when they fled to London and later moved to Paris. While Huene was entitled he did not use “Baron” in his name.

By age 25 he was the chief of photography for French Vogue, where he met Horst P. Horst, who was his frequent model (torso opening photo top row far right) and lover. Horst went on to fill French Vogue’s chief photographer position when Huene moved to New York in 1935.

Harper’s Bazaar, books and the film industry

Huene did most of his work in New York for Harper’s Bazaar. He published two books — “Hellas” and “Egypt.” Ultimately, he relocated to Hollywood, where he made glamorous photographs of movie stars and provided color consulting for films.

Huene worked with director George Cukor who said he was “immeasurably important to me.” Hoyningen-Huene served as a color consultant on the films “A Star is Born,” “Heller in Pink Tights” and “Les Girls,” where he worked on the colors of the costumes, sets and photography.

Renowned actor Katharine Hepburn (opening photo bottom row far left) said that looking at Mr. Hoyningen-Huene’s work was like viewing “a column of the Parthenon with its wonderful color but stark sense of beauty.” She described his work as having “a great sense of simplicity.”

Innovator with light

Huene’s use of light was arguably way ahead of his time. His work appeared as if he was working with modern flash even though it had yet to be invented. He worked in very large studios and lit his models in an intensely aggressive way. The textures he realized in his black and white photographs are rarely found in contemporary pictures.

His work lives on

George Hoyningen-Huene died on September 12, 1968, in Los Angeles at age 68. His photography is in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, The MET and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Sources: The New York Times 9/23/1968 (subscription required), The New York Times 12/28/1999, Peter Fetterman Gallery, the official George Hoyningen-Huene website.

More stories of inspirational photographers are in On Photography.