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LUSHA NELSON PHOTOGRAPHS Celebrity, the Forgotten Man, and 1930s America


LUSHA NELSON PHOTOGRAPHS Celebrity, the Forgotten Man, and 1930s America Sarah Lees and Catherine Whitney With an essay by Paul Martineau

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This catalogue is published on the occasion of the exhibition

LUSHA NELSON PHOTOGRAPHS Celebrity, the Forgotten Man, and 1930s America Organized by Philbrook Museum of Art on view from February 5–May 7, 2017

Text copyright © Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without written permission from the publisher. ISBN 978-0-86659-038-9 4

SARAH LEES Ruth G. Hardman Curator of European Art, Philbrook PAU L M A RT I N E AU Associate Curator, Department of Photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum SCOTT STULEN Director/President, Philbrook C AT H E R I N E W H I T N E Y Chief Curator and Curator of American Art, Philbrook Edited by Daniel Cohen Designed by Amanda Hodges, Philbrook Photography by Shane Culpepper


TABLE OF CONTENTS

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Foreword Scott Stulen

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Acknowledgments

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Introduction

Sarah Lees and Catherine Whitney

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Lusha Nelson: One Wild, Restless Dream Paul Martineau

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Photographs 28 Biography 68 Portraits 134 New York City 184 Popular Entertainment 224 Pictures that Opened Pocketbooks

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Lusha Nelson Chronology

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Bibliography

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FOREWORD SCOTT STULEN

Director / President Philbrook Museum of Art

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arely does a museum have the opportunity to unveil the work of an artist who has been virtually lost to history. And rarely does a museum luck into an acquisition of a comprehensive private archive containing thousands of images by one artist. It is thus my great privilege to introduce Lusha Nelson Photographs: Celebrity, the Forgotten Man, and 1930s America. This catalogue and the exhibition it accompanies chronicle the compelling story of Lusha Nelson, a Latvian immigrant to the United States who, within four years of buying his first camera, had broken into the highly competitive field of magazine photography and was creating iconic images of the leading figures of his day for publications such as Vanity Fair and Vogue. Sharing Philbrook’s rediscovery of Nelson’s personal trove of photographs, this project is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to present a hidden body of work by a notable photographer. During Nelson’s short career, he made significant contributions to the transformation of photography in 1930s popular media. Along with colleagues such as Edward Steichen and Cecil Beaton, he pushed the envelope for commercial photographers of his day and elevated the work to a form of art. After his untimely death at age thirty, the photographs of this promising young artist sat untouched and nearly forgotten for half a century.

Saline (detail), c. 1935 Cat. 102

Philbrook is indebted to the vision of my predecessor, Rand Suffolk, and to Chief Curator Catherine Whitney, who together recognized the quality of Nelson’s work and acted quickly and decisively to acquire the collection for this institution. Whitney and Sarah Lees, Ruth G. Hardman Curator of European Art, enthusiastically embraced this project, and have pieced together the story of Nelson’s short life and his copious artistic production. Paul Martineau, Associate Curator of photography at the Getty, provided an illuminating essay on Nelson’s career in the context of the period. Collections manager Jaye McCaghren and a team of dedicated volunteers processed this acquisition in record time with efficiency and determination. The elegant design of this catalogue is the work of graphic designer Amanda Hodges. This project benefited enormously from Director of Collections and Exhibitions Rachel Keith’s clear vision and expert guidance. I would like to thank the Board of Trustees, led by Chair Bill Thomas, whose leadership and backing have made this ambitious undertaking possible, and the numerous Philbrook team members whose contributions made this project a reality. We are also grateful for the support of Nelson’s granddaughter Karen Paul-Stern and the 2015–2017 Philbrook Exhibition Series Sponsors. This catalogue marks the beginning of a long-term project as Philbrook seeks to discover the full extent of Nelson’s production and to situate him and his work within the lively New York photography scene of the 1930s. This study will be an ongoing endeavor, resulting in a number of future exhibitions and related scholarship. As this scholarship progresses, we will continue to share Lusha Nelson’s work and story to inspire the general public and photography experts alike. We invite you to join in our journey of discovery as we uncover the lost legacy of Lusha Nelson.

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PHILBROOK MUSEUM OF ART EXHIBITION SERIES SPONSORS 2 015 – 2 017

SUPPORTING SPONSOR

SPONSORS

The Mary K. Chapman Foundation

Barbara and Hal Allen Argonaut Private Equity Barnett Family Foundation Irene and Stan Burnstein Fulton and Susie Collins Foundation Margo and Kent Dunbar Beth and Ben Latham Holbrook Lawson and Rick Holder Mabrey Bank The Mervin Bovaird Foundation Oklahoma Arts Council Greg Ratliff and Cheryl Ulmer Sam J. and Nona M. Rhoades Foundation SemGroup Jill and Robert Thomas Susan and William Thomas The Walton Family Foundation Kathleen P. Westby Foundation Mollie Williford

UNDERWRITING SPONSORS Ralph & Frances McGill Foundation Nancy and Peter Meinig Sherman E. Smith Family Charitable Foundation

CONTRIBUTING SPONSORS The George & Wanda Brown Foundation C. W. Titus Foundation D&L Oil Tools, Pam and Lee Eslicker Helmerich Trust Barbara and Stephen Heyman Herman G Kaiser Foundation Matrix Service Company Philbrook Contemporary Consortium

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A great many people have contributed their time and expertise to processing the Lusha Nelson collection and to making this catalogue and the exhibition it accompanies a reality. We would like to thank all of them and gratefully acknowledge their invaluable contributions to the success of this project. In addition to Philbrook’s Exhibition Series Sponsors, who generously support all of our projects, they include:

Jenn Boyd George Brooks Mark Brown Marc Carlson Lana Chapman Kate Christensen Shane Culpepper Gretchen Dykstra Frank Escher Dan Farnum Rabbi Marc Fitzerman Sarah Frey Susan Green Ann Greene Ravi GuneWardena Luke Hembree

Amanda Hodges Jessimi Jones Corinne Kannenberg Rachel Keith Elizabeth Kennedy Connor Lynch Cynthia Marcoux Darcy Marlow Jeff Martin Katy Martin-Beal Jaye McCaghren Lynn McNair Tricia Milford-Hoyt Mary Moore Cody Palmer Karen Paul-Stern Sarah Podpechan

Rich Remsberg John Rohrbach Vivian Saxon Julie Stafford Danielle Steinmann Rand Suffolk Cristiano Aires Teixeira Danina Tucker Tulsa City-County Library Fernanda Valverde Shawn Waldron Edward Whelan Marilyn Woolsey Edward Yee Tom Young

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INTRODUCTION SARAH LEES C ATHERINE WHITNEY

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Alfred Stieglitz (detail), 1935 Cat. 13

n many ways, Lusha Nelson (1907–1938) has been hiding in plain sight. Hundreds of his photographs featured prominently in the pages of Vanity Fair and Vogue in the 1930s; he created iconic portraits of some of the most famous celebrities of his day; and he was close to Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, two of the most influential photographers of the first half of the twentieth century. Despite Nelson’s high profile, today his name is virtually unknown even to many photography specialists. This may be, in part, because his life and career were cut tragically short: when he died at age thirty, he had been a professional photographer for only six years. Moreover, after his death in 1938, the majority of his prints and negatives remained with his family until the cache was acquired by a neighbor in 1983, and his descendants lost all trace of the material. As a result, without anyone to promote them in the intervening years, few of Nelson’s photographs entered public collections. In addition, Nelson approached photography as a practical means of making a living, producing striking commercial and documentary work but rarely taking photographs solely for aesthetic contemplation or artistic experimentation. This is characteristic of a period when the line between commercial photography and fine art had become blurred, and high-end periodicals cultivated sophisticated brand identities by featuring the work of the best photographic talents of the day. While he was included in numerous group exhibitions, Nelson did not garner any solo exhibitions—or the reviews and critical assessment that go with them—either during his lifetime or subsequently.

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Sarah Lees (left) and Catherine Whitney examine some of the tearsheets from 1930s-era magazines such as Vanity Fair and Vogue for which Lusha Nelson worked. Photo courtesy Tulsa World.

Lusha Nelson Photographs: Celebrity, the Forgotten Man, and 1930s America—the firstever in-depth examination of Nelson’s work— corrects this historical oversight, presenting the rare opportunity to rediscover an artist who achieved rapid and notable success, but whose output and story have been largely forgotten. That this opportunity has arisen at Philbrook Museum of Art is fortuitous. In 2014, the Museum received a phone call from a member who described a large collection of 1930s photographs and negatives in her possession. The caller had devoted four years of considerable study to the collection, concluding that it should be shared with the public and housed in a public institution. The caller explained that her late husband, a filmmaker and photographer himself, had purchased the estate contents in Brooklyn in 1983 from the home of Nelson’s only daughter, Alice. This consisted of a file cabinet and many boxes of photographs and archival material, which remained with the new owners for the better part of thirty years, largely untouched. After her husband passed away, the caller endeavored to 12

organize, research, and responsibly place the collection, ultimately contacting Philbrook for advice after relocating to Tulsa. The high quality of the images, as well as the comprehensive nature of the collection, struck the curators who examined the photographs, prompting them to begin the process of assessment, study, and, ultimately, acquisition. In September 2015, the Philbrook Board of Trustees approved the purchase of the collection. Lusha Nelson’s own story had emerged to a considerable extent from the caller’s research, and it developed further as Philbrook continued the investigation. Nelson was born Luscha Katznelson1 on June 19, 1907, in Riga, Latvia, at a time when the region was part of the Russian Empire. He ran away from home in early 1922 at the age of fifteen, four years after Latvia had declared its independence, and went to the port city of Liepaja (called Libau at the time), seeking, according to one account, to “see more people, have greater adventures, [and] absorb life faster.”2 His stay in the city lasted only a few months; by July 31 he had signed on as a mess


“This exhibition represents the beginning of an ongoing process of exploration and rediscovery...”

boy with the Baltic American Line on the SS Latvia. The ship set sail for New York, and when it arrived on August 17, Nelson obtained shore leave papers, but never returned to the ship. Instead, he began to make his way in New York. For several years he took odd jobs, including work as a sous-chef at a resort in the Catskills, and also tried his hand at painting. His interest in photography and film emerged in the late 1920s, partly inspired—as his wife later suggested—by films such as Sergei Eisenstein’s October: Ten Days that Shook the World (1928), an account of the Russian Revolution.3

Irene Seplow (1909–1950); a few months later his first published photographs appeared in magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times; and by fall he began working for the publisher Condé Nast, rapidly rising to the level of staff photographer. How he came to the attention of Nast and Steichen, the magazine publisher’s chief photographer, is still unknown. Just two years later, however, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.4 Despite the grim prognosis, Nelson continued to work prolifically, publishing portraits, photo-essays, and fashion shots in Vanity Fair and Vogue; participating in group exhibitions, including the first survey of The next several years are shrouded in mystery. He photography at the Museum of Modern Art in must have purchased a camera between 1928 and March 1937; and supporting the Federation for 1930, and may well have enrolled in photography the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies by classes at a school like that run by Clarence H. exhibiting in three group shows. White, as did many of his contemporaries. But aside from an undated print that Nelson annotated Another event still awaiting clarification occurred as his “first picture taken with [his] 9 x 12 camera, in June 1936, when an immigration document or any camera” (cat. 1), no documentation indicates that Nelson re-entered the United from this period has emerged. The historical States at Niagara Falls accompanied by his trail resumes in 1932, which was a significant sister, Lesar.5 She was presumably escaping the year: in March he married New York–born dictatorship then in control of Latvia, which INTRODUCTION

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had been hostile to both radical right- and leftwing movements in the country. The region was already politically unstable, and in 1941, tens of thousands of Latvian Jews would perish under Nazi occupation. Lesar arrived safely in Canada in advance of these atrocities, where her brother apparently met and accompanied her into the United States. Aside from this small immigration card, however, no further trace of Lesar has surfaced, and surviving family members and friends have no knowledge of her. About a month later, Nelson himself boarded a ship for Europe and traveled for several months, stopping in cities such as London, Paris, and Madrid, as well as spending three weeks in his childhood home of Riga. He made the journey no doubt aware that his failing health—as well as the deteriorating European political climate—would probably make this his last chance to see his native land. Irene appears to have joined him for some portion of the trip, as several photographs showing her standing by a tall, European-style casement window, visibly pregnant, suggest, but she returned to New York before the birth of the couple’s daughter, Alice, in December.6 Nelson returned home shortly thereafter, in January 1937. Although he continued to work, his output slowed. He died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May 1938, one month before his thirty-first birthday.7

of his work appear in this initial overview, however, as Nelson also turned his lens on various other subjects, such as a considerable number of landscapes and a small group of studies of nudes. The prints Philbrook acquired, numbering over 6,000, appear to represent those the photographer chose to keep on file. Portraits predominate, while the numerous fashion and product photographs he also made hold a smaller place in the collection. The Museum has not yet catalogued the thousands of negatives in the collection, which undoubtedly hold new and as-yet-unknown images that will emerge in the course of ongoing studies.

The photographs in this exhibition point to an accomplished yet still-emerging artist who observed and absorbed the styles of the colleagues around him, from Steichen’s clear-eyed realism to George Hoyningen-Huene’s glowing, fashionable glamour. Although in his abbreviated career Nelson may not have fully realized the promise demonstrated in these works, he still left a lasting mark on the visual culture of the time. His oeuvre itself now holds similar promise, which Philbrook is proud to nurture. This exhibition represents the beginning of an ongoing process of exploration and rediscovery that will place Lusha Nelson more firmly within the constellation of prominent photographers whose images reflected Nelson produced a remarkable body of work and defined 1930s America. during his brief lifetime. This exhibition serves as an introduction to his output, representing a sampling of many of the subjects he treated. These include Hollywood celebrities, circus acrobats, hospital patients, New York scenes, and pictures taken for both commercial and charitable purposes that were designed, as one publication described it, “to open pocketbooks” in different but related ways.8 Not all aspects

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INTRODUCTION


NOTES

1. The spelling of his name varies in different documents; this is the spelling in the ship’s manifest that recorded his arrival in New York in 1922. “List or Manifest of Aliens Employed on the Vessel as Members of Crew,” in Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897–1957, microfilm T715, roll 3160, p. 134, National Archives and Records Administration (accessed on Ancestry.com, 28 Dec. 2016). 2. [Isabel Hopkins], “Lusha Nelson— Photographer,” unpublished article, c. 1935, p. 1. Lusha Nelson Collection, Philbrook Museum of Art Library, Special Collections. 3. Mrs. Lusha [Irene] Nelson, “Lusha Nelson: The Life of an American Photographer,” U.S. Camera Annual 1941 (1940), vol. 1, America, p. 118. 4. Ibid., p. 119.

6. The only known prints of these photographs appear in the album owned by Karen Paul-Stern, Nelson’s granddaughter (see cat. 3). The records tracing Irene’s travel are incomplete, but one passenger list does indicate that she traveled from Le Havre, France to New York at the age of 27, which presumably corresponds to her return from Europe in late 1936. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897–1957, microfilm T715, roll 5896, National Archives and Records Administration (accessed on Ancestry.com, 24 Jan. 2017). 7. Cause of death stated in State of New York, Department of Health of the City of New York, Standard Certificate of Death, no. 9984. 8. PM Weekly, 20 Apr. 1941, p. 48.

5. Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York, 1902– 1954, microfilm M1480, roll 98, National Archives and Records Administration (accessed on Ancestry.com, 28 Dec. 2016).

INTRODUCTION

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LUSHA NELSON ONE WILD, RESTLESS DREAM PAUL MARTINEAU

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FIGURE 1 (ABOVE) Man Ray American, 1890–1976 George Braque, 1930 Solarized gelatin silver print 11 3/4 x 9 1/16 in. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.XM.1000.19 LEFT Self-Portrait (detail), 1931 Cat. 2

usha Nelson was a brilliant young staff photographer for Condé Nast Publications who rose to prominence for his straightforward and insightful celebrity portraits. Following the modern trend against the excesses of the pictorialist style, Nelson strove to make his portraits expressive without the use of elaborate backdrops or darkroom trickery. Armed with sensitivity for people’s needs and moods, Nelson managed to convince reluctant celebrities to visit his studio to have their portraits made. Nelson’s name, which appeared in print under hundreds of portraits and fashion studies, was synonymous with the highest quality. In the years that followed his untimely death in 1938 at age thirty, his name and legacy have slowly slipped into the shadows. The acquisition of thousands of photographs, negatives, and archival materials by Philbrook Museum of Art in 2015 promises continued opportunities to shed light on the life and career of this talented artist. Born Luscha Katznelson on June 19, 1907 in the Latvian city of Riga, Nelson once described his childhood as “one wild restless dream,” saying that the streak of individuality that he possessed made him “pay with hard physical labor” every time it asserted itself.1 Nelson ran away from home to the nearby city of Liepaja before immigrating to the United States at age fifteen. Landing in New York City alone and with no connections, he took a series of odd jobs. Inspired by a long-standing interest in facial expressions, he decided to try his hand at painting and began to familiarize himself with the work of Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Vincent van Gogh.2 He studied painting haphazardly as he eked out a bare existence,

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LEFT Katharine Hepburn, 1932 Cat. 21 FIGURE 2 (RIGHT) Lusha Nelson Katharine Hepburn, 1932 Gelatin silver print 6 3/4 x 4 1/2 in Philbrook Museum of Art

eventually putting down his brush and picking up a camera. Determined to make photography his profession, Nelson concentrated his efforts on mastering its technical and aesthetic principles. A striking self-portrait made in 1931 demonstrates his new skills (cat. 2). The odd angle, tight framing and bold lighting are decidedly modernist in feeling—qualities often found in the portraits of the Paris-based American expatriate artist Man Ray (fig. 1). In the darkroom, Nelson chose a matte gelatin silver paper for the image and used a toning agent, which resulted in a print with warm creamy whites and rich brownish blacks.

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On March 25, 1932 Nelson married Irene Seplow, the daughter of a Russian Jewish house painter.3 A few months later, he had three of his portraits accepted for publication. The most significant of these was a stately portrait of the American novelist Sherwood Anderson, which appeared in the pages of the New York Times on September 25, 1932.4 Shortly thereafter, Nelson managed to land a job as a staff photographer at Condé Nast Publications. Recognizing as early as 1913 that photography was the future of magazine illustration, the publisher Condé Nast hired Baron Adolf de Meyer as the first full-time photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair. By 1932, Nast’s stable had grown swiftly to include over


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FIGURE 3 Walker Evans American, 1903–1975 Two Women at a Hot Dog Stand, Possibly Coney Island, c. 1930 Gelatin silver print 6 x 7 15/16 in. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.XM.956.694

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a dozen photographers, including Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, George Hoyningen-Huene, Man Ray, and Edward Steichen. Nast was known for pushing his well-established photographers to continue to innovate, while providing new talent with opportunities to develop their skills under his masthead.5 It was Nelson’s job to impress Frank Crowninshield. Crowninshield, longtime editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, was a man of taste and the person responsible for transforming it from a leisure and fashion magazine into an important literary and arts journal. One of Nelson’s first assignments was to photograph the American actress Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn had recently transitioned from the stage to film and, after appearing in A Bill of Divorcement (1932) opposite John Barrymore, became a star. Two accomplished portraits from that sitting show related, but markedly different approaches. In the first, Hepburn wears a serious expression

LUSHA NELSON: ONE WILD, RESTLESS DREAM


“In the setting for a photograph, one tries to suggest the character of the person...” and has her arms folded—a pose that suggests her fierce independence as well as a need for self-protection (fig. 2). In the second, Nelson’s choices transformed the actress from a scrappy fighter into a serene screen goddess (cat. 21). Celebrity portraiture was to become Nelson’s strong suit. As he gained experience, he learned that it was easier to make a portrait of someone famous than someone unknown. “You know a great deal about a celebrity before he even enters the studio,” Nelson said, “You have some idea of what expression to try and get. With an unknown person, you must experiment . . . you must feel your way, try several approaches before you strike a sympathetic understanding of his character.”6 Nelson used a large format view camera on a tripod when making these portraits and, although he did burn and dodge (selectively print or cover areas of the paper) to lighten or darken the resulting image, he rejected the heavy retouching of negatives that was the specialty of celebrity photographer par excellence George Hurrell. Hurrell, who worked for Metro Goldwyn Mayer during the 1930s, was largely responsible for developing the photographic style now referred to as “Hollywood glamour.” A realist at heart, Nelson was keen to keep his process and equipment as simple as possible in order to stay focused on his subject.7 Nelson also avoided the elaborate sets and props often used by other portraitists. “In the setting for a photograph, one tries to suggest the character of the person and a prepared background waiting for the sitter is a bit of flattery everybody appreciates,” Nelson

explained, “For a man’s photograph, perhaps a plain, rugged chair is enough; for an actress, I might chose a Victorian sofa.”8 During the depths of the Great Depression, Nelson often spent his spare time photographing the crowded sidewalks (cat. 59), the towering architecture (cats. 61–66), and the unemployed and dispossessed (cats. 53–56). His pictures of the urban poor blended a social message with a great sense of empathy. Recognizing Nelson’s talent and range of interests, Crowninshield began to send him out to cover leisure subjects for the magazine. He followed the circus (cats. 77–81, 86–89) and visited Coney Island, where he photographed people enjoying the beach (cats. 90–92), the amusements (cat. 93), and the food stands (cats. 94–95). A handful of these pictures, which were taken on the fly using a Graflex (a medium-format handheld camera), were published in Vanity Fair. Taken together they share something in common with the themes and style of Walker Evans’s pioneering photography work of the late 1920s and 1930s (fig. 3). While the majority of his output was destined for the pages of Vanity Fair, Nelson also created portraits and fashion studies for Edna Woolman Chase, Crowninshield’s counterpart at Vogue. Nelson’s fashion pictures can be characterized by their clean, modern look, which blended the straightforwardness of Steichen and the elegance of Hoyningen-Huene (cats. 104–8). He focused on an overall effect that showed off the clothes and communicated sophistication,

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relying on pose and dramatic lighting to make his pictures visually interesting. Although Nelson lacked a real interest in fashion, his best work rivaled that of his more experienced colleagues. As his reputation grew, he was hired to create fashion advertisements by major department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue.

FIGURE 4 (LEFT) Lusha Nelson Joe Louis, 1935 Gelatin silver print 9 15/16 x 8 in. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution © Condé Nast Archive BELOW Joe Louis, 1935 Cat. 43

Beyond the exposure Nelson received on the printed page, he participated in several group exhibitions. In 1934, five of his photographs were shown in an exhibition held at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and organized by the National Alliance of Art and Industry and the Photographic Illustrators.9 That same year, he became involved with the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies, which sponsored exhibitions to raise funds for a large number of charitable organizations.10 Nelson participated in the 1934, 1935, and 1938 exhibitions, making a series of photographs at local hospitals, sanitariums, and rest homes. The pictures, which included everything from a surgical operation in progress (cat. 98) to a still life composed of bottles of saline (cat. 102), were hung together like the type of photo-essay popularized by Life beginning in 1936. These photographs demonstrate the strength of Nelson’s work in the documentary mode. During the autumn of 1934, Nelson was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the disease that would eventually drain his energy and take his life. Facing his own mortality, he redoubled his commitment to his work, pursuing it with an enthusiasm that surprised those closest to him.11 The following year Nelson made a masterpiece. The sitter was boxer Joe Louis, who was fighting his way toward the world heavyweight championship (cat. 43). To portray Louis as an American hero would have been enough for most photographers. In fact, another excellent image from this sitting, now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., does just that (fig. 4). In Philbrook’s photograph, however, Nelson got Louis to let down his guard, allowing the camera to see his hunched over pose and the weary look on his battered face. The portrait contains great emotional complexity and, if you look closely in the ornate full-length mirror, the reflection of the photographer. On a single piece of cellulose acetate LUSHA NELSON: ONE WILD, RESTLESS DREAM

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film, Nelson managed to capture the dignity and pathos of this great athlete. Naturally gregarious, Nelson mixed well with his colleagues at Condé Nast Publications and connected with photographers outside of his immediate circle. During the summer of 1935, he was invited to spend time with Alfred Stieglitz and his family at their summer home in Lake George, New York. Armed with a Leica (a small-format camera that takes 35mm film), Nelson made a series of snapshots of his elderly host, other guests, and surroundings (cats. 12–13). A couple of years after Nelson’s death, Steichen selected fourteen of these photographs for publication in U.S. Camera, referring to them as “a magnificent portrait document.”12 The praise that Steichen showered upon Nelson provoked some negative letters from the readership, who did not find the work sufficiently interesting or worthy of such a lengthy spread.13 While the snapshots do not represent Nelson’s best efforts, his portraits of Stieglitz are true to his credo of capturing an unvarnished picture of a sitter’s character. It should be noted, too, that Nelson was not involved in the edit and may not have intended them to be published.

Nelson died in New York City on May 4, 1938. In six short years, he managed to shoot through the ranks, enjoying the admiration of millions of readers of Vanity Fair and Vogue and having his best work exhibited alongside that of the masters of the medium. Nelson has left an indelible mark on the history of photographic portraiture during the 1930s; a fact that calls out for in-depth study. Fortunately, the task has become easier now that the artist’s archive, which languished in dustcovered boxes for decades, has been secured by Philbrook. It is frightening to ponder how many photographic archives of this sort (part of our shared visual history) may have been swallowed up by the dark maw of a dumpster precisely because they were thought to lack sufficient artistic, historic, or financial value.

In an effort to memorialize her husband’s achievements, Irene wrote an article about Nelson’s life and career for U.S. Camera, explaining that “it was through his camera that he expressed his moods, his feelings, his very life. . . . The thousands of photographs left behind are not only a record of the of those things photographed, but the composite picture of the spirit and life of an individual.”16 Crowninshield also paid tribute to Nelson when he described him as “a young Despite his failing health, Nelson’s star continued master who was reaching the acme of his art when to rise; his portraits of Cecil Beaton, Mayor La death cut short his labors.”17 Driven by his interest Guardia, Jesse Owens (cat. 46), and Igor Sikorsky in all manner of human activity, Nelson used were featured in the 1937 exhibition Photography his intuition to search out shimmering flashes 1839–1937 at the Museum of Modern Art.14 of truth, preserving these moments on delicate Organized by art historian and curator yet resilient pieces of paper that have once again Beaumont Newhall, Photography 1839–1937 come to light through this exhibition. was a watershed—the museum’s first exhibition of photography and the first comprehensive exhibition of the history of photography mounted in the United States.15

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NOTES

1. “Baltic Contribution,” Vanity Fair, July 1933, p. 5. 2. Mrs. Lusha [Irene] Nelson, “Lusha Nelson: The Life of an American Photographer,” U.S. Camera Annual 1941 (1940), vol. 1, America, p. 118. 3. Hyman Seplow in the 1920 United States Federal Census (accessed on Ancestry.com, 29 Dec. 2016). 4. John Chamberlain, “Mr. Anderson’s ‘Labor’ Novel,” New York Times, 25 Sept. 1932, p. BR6. 5. Caroline Seebohm, The Man Who Was Vogue (New York: The Viking Press, 1982), p. 223. 6. [Isabel Hopkins], “Lusha Nelson—Photographer,” unpublished article, c. 1935, p. 2. 7. Nelson, “Lusha Nelson,” p. 120. 8. [Hopkins], “Lusha Nelson,” p. 2. 9. Howard Devree, “A Round of Galleries: The Autumn Season Begins,” New York Times, 23 Sept. 1934, p. X8. 10. “Federation Shows Views of its Work: Photographic Exhibit Designed to Aid Jewish Charities in Drive for Funds,” New York Times, 30 Oct. 1934, p. 22. 11. Nelson, “Lusha Nelson,” p. 119.

PAUL MARTINEAU is Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. He has organized numerous exhibitions covering a range of topics spanning the history of photography from its beginnings to today. Martineau is the author and coauthor of many books, including, most recently, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs (2016); The Thrill of the Chase: The Wagstaff Collection of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum (2016); Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit (2014); and Herb Ritts: L. A. Style (2012).

12. Edward Steichen, “The Lusha Nelson Photographs of Alfred Stieglitz.” U.S. Camera Magazine, no. 8 (Feb.–Mar. 1940), p. 16. 13. John Raeburn, A Staggering Revolution: A Cultural History of Thirties Photography (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), pp. 109–10. 14. “Photography 1839–1937” (exhibition checklist), Museum of Modern Art, New York, undated, p. 115. 15. “Photography 1839–1937” (press release), Museum of Modern Art, New York, 12 Mar. 1937, p. 1. 16. Nelson, “Lusha Nelson,” p. 253. 17. Frank Crowninshield, “Vogue… Pioneer in Modern Photography,” Vogue, 15 June 1941, p.72.

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Skyline at Night (detail), 1933-35 Cat. 67 26


PHOTOGRAPHS Unless otherwise noted, all works are gelatin silver prints by Lusha Nelson, Museum purchase 2015 27


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BIOGRAPHY The photographs in this section document Nelson’s biography. They record significant people and locations, illustrate his personal and professional connections, and demonstrate some of his working methods.

AndrĂŠ Durst, Lusha Nelson (detail), 1936 Cat. 18 29


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Portrait of a Woman— Lusha Nelson’s First Photograph c. 1928–30 9 ½ x 7 ½ in. Inscribed on mount: My first picture taken with my 9 x 12 camera or any camera. According to his wife, Nelson became actively interested in photography in about 1928, and must have acquired his first camera within a year or two. As Nelson himself wrote on the mount, this is his “first picture taken with [his] 9 x 12 camera, or any camera.” Although nothing more is known about the subject or her surroundings, this appealingly simple and direct image sets the tone for much of Nelson’s subsequent work.

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Self-Portrait 1931 7 ½ x 5 ¼ in. Inscribed lower right: To Irene / Lou / 1931 This self-portrait is unusual for Nelson in its soft focus. His heavily shadowed and slightly blurred features, whether the effect was intentional or accidental, give the photograph a romantic tone that differs from the sharp clarity of most of his work. This tone perhaps prompted him to dedicate the picture to his future wife, Irene— and the small holes in two corners may indicate that she pinned it up for display, underscoring its significance.

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3

Irene Nelson c. 1932–36 Album of photographs Collection of Karen Paul-Stern This family album is filled exclusively with pictures of Nelson’s wife, Irene (1909–1950). The photographs range in date from early in the couple’s relationship, around the time of their marriage in 1932, to Irene’s pregnancy in 1936. Nelson probably separated these prints from the rest of his work and assembled them into the album for Irene; there are two similar volumes that contain pictures of Lusha and of the couple’s daughter, Alice.

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4

Leslie Nast, Condé Nast’s Daughter c. 1933 8 x 10 in. This sweet, appealingly informal image depicts the young daughter of magazine publisher Condé Nast, for whom Nelson worked. That Nast asked his recently hired employee to make this portrait suggests the high esteem in which he held the photographer.

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5 Photographer unknown, for Acme News Pictures

Nelson at the Opening of the Savoy-Plaza Lounge 1934 6 ½ x 8 ¼ in. A press photographer snapped this picture of the opening of the lounge at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel, New York, and happened to catch Nelson, visible at center right. As well as providing an enjoyable evening, the event must have held added appeal for Nelson, since the proceeds benefited a children’s hospital—a cause similar to those he supported with his own work.

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6 Photographer unknown

Nelson with His Wife, Irene c. 1936 6 ½ x 4 in.

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7

Margaret Lewisohn c. 1934–36 8 ½ x 7 ½ in. A prominent figure in arts and education circles in New York, Margaret Lewisohn (1895–1954) trained as a pianist and teacher and was director of the Public Education Association, which worked with the New York Board of Education. Nelson’s note on this proof to “Fred”—presumably an assistant—indicates that the photographer had help in the darkroom fulfilling orders from clients.

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8 Lusha Nelson or Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879–1973)

Edward Steichen with Condé Nast staff members c. 1934–37 8 x 10 in. This humorous image centers on Edward Steichen, accompanied presumably by other Condé Nast staff members wearing funny hats and what appear to be tea towels for shirts, and holding issues of the publisher’s magazines. While Nelson kept this print of his colleagues in his collection, it may actually be a self-portrait by Steichen, who appears to hold the cable shutter release of the camera with which this picture was taken.

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9

Trojan Lake Lodge c. 1934–37 11 x 14 in. Trojan Lake Lodge was a large resort hotel at the edge of the Catskill Mountains, roughly one hundred miles northwest of New York City. Before he became a professional photographer, Nelson worked there as a sous-chef. He probably returned several times in subsequent years and seems to have started a family tradition, as his daughter, Alice, later visited and met her future husband there.

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10 Photographer unknown

Jewish Federation Exhibition Opening 1935 7 ¼ x 9 ¼ in. Nelson participated in three annual exhibitions organized by the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies. Many photographers contributed images illustrating the activities of the Federation’s affiliated organizations to help raise funds. This picture, from the December 1935 opening at a Madison Avenue gallery, shows Nelson with fellow photographer Arnold Genthe; Mrs. Charles J. Liebman, chair of the exhibition committee; and photographer Edward Steichen.

11 Photographer unknown

Jewish Federation Exhibition Opening 1935 7 x 9 in.

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12

Alfred Stieglitz 1935 7 x 9 in. Published in U.S. Camera, February–March 1940 Nelson made a series of portraits of Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946)—one of the most influential photographers and modern art champions of the time—at Stieglitz’s family home on Lake George, New York. Edward Steichen, Nelson’s mentor, esteemed the pictures so highly that he published “this magnificent portrait document” in U.S. Camera magazine after Nelson’s death. Rather than conveying a sense of Stieglitz’s importance, these shots give a more intimate glimpse of an ordinary, aging man relaxing on his porch.

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13

Alfred Stieglitz 1935 7 x 9 in. To create this playful image, made at Lake George, Nelson aimed his camera at the shiny hubcap of a car, catching photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s hand as he pointed at his own reflection. Nelson himself is visible in the center, holding his camera; the man on the left behind him may be Edward Steichen.

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14 Photographer unknown

Nelson with a Model c. 1935–37 6 ½ x 4 ½ in.

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15

Riga, Latvia 1936 10 x 8 in. Nelson spent about six months traveling in Europe beginning in summer 1936, including a three-week stay in his hometown of Riga, Latvia. Curiously, there is little if any sign of human activity in most of the photographs he took on this trip. Here, the narrow, deeply shadowed street is populated only by several cats basking in a strong beam of sunlight.

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Riga, Latvia 1936 10 x 8 in. The simple geometric shapes and stark light and shadow in this image give it a modern look, despite the evident age and rustic character of the building. Although Riga was a thriving metropolis, Nelson primarily photographed rustic scenes outside the city center during his visit. They may have held personal significance as sites he had known in childhood.

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17 André Durst French, 1907–1949

Lusha Nelson 1936 6 ¼ x 6 ½ in. Signed lower left Inscribed lower right on mount: To the two monkeys / Paris 1936 Lusha Embossed lower right on mount: Vogue Studios Paris

Collection of Karen Paul-Stern Nelson sent this photograph home to his wife and new baby while he was traveling in Europe. He inscribed it, “To the two monkeys, Paris 1936, Lusha.” Durst often worked for Vogue in Paris and probably met Nelson through this professional connection. Durst made a series of portraits of Nelson during his visit to Europe.

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18 André Durst French, 1907–1949

Lusha Nelson 1936 7 x 6 ½ in. Inscribed lower right on mount: To Ma and Pa / Lusha / 1936 Embossed lower right on mount: Vogue Studios Paris Collection of Karen Paul-Stern Nelson may have sent this picture, which he inscribed, “To Ma and Pa, Lusha, Paris 1936,” to his wife’s parents in New York, just before he returned to the United States from a European trip.

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19

Thomas Jefferson Coolidge 1936 10 x 8 in. Thomas Jefferson Coolidge (1893–1959) was undersecretary of the US Treasury when Nelson photographed him. He was also a banker and businessman, and was director and then chairman of the United Fruit Company. The notes Nelson inscribed on this proof were probably to help his assistant produce subsequent prints; they include the directive to adjust it “so it will not be noticed that retouching has been done.”

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20 Photographer unknown

Nelson on Board a Ship c. 1936–37 10 x 8 in.

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PORTRAITS “Lusha Nelson,” one writer commented, “has a passion for faces”—a passion that is clearly evident in his images of both famous and everyday people. As he himself noted, his “first picture taken… with any camera” was a portrait of a woman, and he subsequently set up a modest studio to produce such photographs for clients. His earliest published works were portraits, and once he became a staff photographer for Condé Nast in fall 1932, his depictions of significant figures appeared regularly in Vanity Fair and occasionally in the more fashion-oriented Vogue. Nelson’s shots of Hollywood celebrities, notable athletes, public figures, and fellow artists were carefully composed studies featuring simple, bold forms and dramatic lighting, in which he strove to capture each sitter’s character with minimal retouching.

Gary Cooper (detail), 1935 Cat. 36 69


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Katharine Hepburn 1932 6 ¾ x 4 ½ in. Katharine Hepburn (1907–2003) was one of Nelson’s early clients. His records note a session with her in October 1932 in the Vogue studios, less than a year after he first became a professional photographer. She was also beginning her career, having made only one movie, but was already labeled by Vanity Fair—in an April 1933 article accompanying a different shot from the same session—as “the only logical successor” to the already famous Greta Garbo.

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John Sloan 1932 10 x 8 in. One of the founders of the Ashcan School, American painter John Sloan (1871–1951) was renowned for his gritty, richly painted, realist views of New York City life. By the time this picture was taken he was an elder statesman in the art world. Nelson’s picture captures something of the confident charisma, as well as the caustic wit, for which Sloan was known.

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Theresa Shimin c. 1932–34 10 x 8 in. Theresa Shimin (born c. 1906) may have been the wife of Symeon Shimin, an artist and illustrator. At least one of Symeon’s illustrations appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, and it may have been through this connection that Nelson met the couple. Although little is known of Theresa, Nelson’s photograph endows her with the same simple yet glamorous appeal that he gave to Hollywood stars.

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Edward Hopper c. 1933 8 ¼ x 7 ¼ in. Signed lower right on mount The 1933 retrospective of paintings by Edward Hopper (1882–1967) at the Museum of Modern Art prompted Vanity Fair to list him in their “Hall of Fame” feature among notable people for January 1934. Although a different shot from the same portrait session was chosen for publication, Nelson signed this print on the mount, suggesting that he may have used it for another purpose, such as including it in an exhibition.

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Diego Rivera c. 1933 9 ¼ x 7 in. In June 1933, Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886–1957) had just completed a monumental, twenty-seven panel fresco cycle on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts and was working on another mural in Rockefeller Center in New York. The New York mural’s idealization of communism, Vanity Fair commented, “has caused a greater and more momentous sensation.” Indeed, the controversy led to the unfinished mural’s destruction some six months later. Nelson’s dapper portrait, however, emphasizes Rivera’s status as a self-assured “master” artist.

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Fanny Brice and Sally Rand c. 1934 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, June 1934 Fanny Brice (1891–1951) was a comedian, singer, and actress who made her name in the Ziegfeld Follies—elaborately staged Broadway song and dance shows. Here she appears with Sally Rand (1904–1979), a burlesque performer who popularized a not-quite-striptease act called the fan dance, which, Vanity Fair noted, “has swept the world like wildfire.” By one account, Nelson’s session was almost cancelled because of Brice’s annoyance at having to carry her own fan into the studio.

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Marcel Duchamp c. 1934 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, July 1934 Vanity Fair selected Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) for their “Hall of Fame” list of noteworthy people in July 1934 thanks in part to his controversial cubist painting Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), which had gained renewed attention when it was lent to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. Duchamp, the caption commented, “though still an artist, is now a ranking international chess player.” Nelson’s rather distant, enigmatic portrait seems to convey a sense of the artist’s provocative conceptual approach.

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Kykunkor Dancers c. 1934 10 x 8 in. In 1934, musician and dancer Austin Dafora Horton (1890–1965) created a dance theater production titled Kykunkor (The Witch Woman) that garnered critical acclaim and ran for four months in New York. A native of Sierra Leone, Horton was among the first to use African music and dance as the basis for an American production, employing numerous African and African American performers. Several of these dancers participated in a session with Nelson, who captured their power and grace in his images.

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Marya Mannes c. 1934 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, May 1934 Marya Mannes (1904–1990) was a contributor to and editor at Vogue and later wrote for The New Yorker as an essayist and social critic. Given her professional career, it is striking that her “strong and classic” looks led Nelson to choose her as “the most beautiful girl I ever photographed,” for a Vanity Fair article, rather than one of the fashion models or movie stars he had shot.

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Helen Wills Moody c. 1934 9 ¼ x 7 ½ in. When she sat for this portrait, Helen Wills Moody (1905–1998) was about to return to tennis after a yearlong hiatus due to injury. The pause did not affect her career, as she ultimately accumulated thirty-one Grand Slam tournament titles, one of the best records in the twentieth century before the Open Era. Nelson’s portrait is more reflective of her leisure pursuits, as she rests her head coyly on the seat of a chair whose scrolling, carved arm echoes her soft curls.

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Leone Sousa c. 1934 9 ½ x 7 ½ in. Published in Vanity Fair, July 1934 “Leone Sousa was recently voted, by a jury of well-known artists, the most beautiful girl in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934,” Vanity Fair stated. “She was born in Elsinore, California, twentyfour years ago, stands six feet tall in her shoes, made her theatrical début in Luckee Girl, and is one of the better-known artists’ models in New York.” Nelson’s portrait, which likens Sousa to the elegant bloom of a lily, reinforces the magazine’s description.

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Fay Wray c. 1934 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, September 1934 Vanity Fair’s caption for this photograph noted, “Once a hard-riding cowgirl in a series of Western horse dramas, Fay Wray has worked her way up through slapstick comedies and third-rate features to a point where… she is at last given parts which reveal her talent for comedy as well as her undeniable good looks.” Nelson’s portrait uses dramatic lighting and shadows to emphasize her appeal. Wray (1907–2004) is best known today, however, for her melodramatic role in King Kong (1933).

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Jean Arthur c. 1935 14 x 11 in. Published in Vanity Fair, August 1935 Already an actor in silent movies and Broadway plays, Jean Arthur (1900–1991) was about to start a new contract with Hollywood studio Columbia Pictures in 1935 when she posed for this photograph. The following year she starred alongside Gary Cooper in one of her best-known movies, Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Nelson emphasizes the classical lines of her graceful profile by posing her next to a Greek-style sculpture.

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Tallulah Bankhead c. 1935 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, March 1935 Tallulah Bankhead (1902–1968) was already famous for starring stage roles in New York and London when she appeared in the Broadway play Rain, which Nelson’s photograph was used to promote. Her elaborate, rather old-fashioned costume for the role of prostitute Sadie Thompson appears to be based on that used in the original 1922 production, a picture of which was published alongside Nelson’s.

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35 Lusha Nelson or Mehemed Fehmy Agha (American, born Russia, 1896–1978)

British Novelist c. 1935 14 x 11 in. Dr. M. F. Agha (1896–1978) was the innovative art director for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and House and Garden from 1929 to 1943. This humorous “portrait” of a foot—which appears to be a fragment of a mannequin—was exhibited in September 1935 and reproduced in a newspaper article as a photograph by Agha, with the title British Novelist. Since Nelson owned this print, however, and the minimal studio setting and stark lighting are comparable to those in a series of standard portraits Nelson made of Agha, it seems possible that the two men collaborated to create this image.

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Gary Cooper c. 1935 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, October 1935 Gary Cooper (1901–1961) began his career in silent films, and soon became one of Hollywood’s most famous leading men. The year after Nelson photographed him for Vanity Fair, he garnered his first Academy Award nomination. Nelson published another shot of Cooper from this session in Vogue in February 1937, as his choice for “the handsomest man I have ever photographed.”

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Lou Gehrig c. 1935 9 ½ x 7 ½ in. Published in Vanity Fair, May 1935 In May 1935, Vanity Fair noted that baseball player Lou Gehrig (1903–1941) “will be the main attraction at the Yankee Stadium,” after having spent the previous ten seasons in the shadow of Babe Ruth. “He is known as the greatest first baseman in the game,” the caption continued. Nelson’s portrait shows him smiling genially and projecting the image of a “quiet householder… bridge player, and gentleman,” in contrast to the more fiery Ruth.

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Margot Grahame c. 1935 14 x 11 in. Published in Vanity Fair, November 1935 The striking, zebra-striped background and provocative pose in this portrait of English actress Margot Grahame (1911–1982) recall typical photographers’ glamour shots of Hollywood stars. These characteristics, while somewhat unusual for Nelson, suggest that he studied such images in developing his own style. This picture appeared in Vanity Fair to promote Grahame’s role in The Three Musketeers (1935).

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Moss Hart and Cole Porter c. 1935 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, October 1935 The musical Jubilee, with a script by Moss Hart and music and lyrics by Cole Porter, was opening on Broadway when this photograph was published. Although the production had a successful run, it was the pair’s only collaboration. Nelson’s informal yet carefully posed shot captures the two men’s offhand sophistication and the friendly rapport they must have shared.

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Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur c. 1935 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, December 1935 Nelson posed the playwriting and screenwriting team of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur in a whimsical setting that evokes a bar or gambling hall. Both had experienced such rough and tumble places in their earlier careers as newspaper reporters in Chicago—background that informed their 1928 play The Front Page, which they would later adapt for their bestknown work, the screwball comedy film His Girl Friday (1940).

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Beatrice Lillie c. 1935 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, January 1936 “Miss Lillie has soared, like a lark, into the dizziest heights of popularity, both here and abroad,” Vanity Fair commented in January 1936. Beatrice Lillie (1894–1989) was a Canadian-born singer and actress who performed primarily in theater and nightclub shows. The Vanity Fair piece featured Nelson’s photographs of her in four different costumes from her Broadway revue At Home Abroad. Here she portrays Parisian nightclub singer “La Flamme de Paris,” or “The Flame of Paris.”

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Peter Lorre c. 1935 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, January 1936 Peter Lorre (1904–1964) first made his name in the German movie M (1931), playing a murderer of children. This type of character came to define many of his later roles. He again played a murderer in Crime and Punishment (1935), one of his first American films, which Nelson’s publicity photograph was used to promote. The shot neatly encapsulates the story’s drama and pathos in a single, tension-filled image.

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Joe Louis c. 1935 7 ½ x 9 ½ in. Published in Vanity Fair, July 1935 Joe Louis (1914–1981) had recently begun his professional boxing career when he sat for Nelson’s camera in 1935. Two of the resulting portraits appeared in Vanity Fair that year to mark upcoming matches, this one in July and another in October (see p. 22, fig. 4). The shadowy lighting underscores Louis’s searching expression and self-contained pose; such portraits in mainstream publications helped establish Louis as one of the first nationally prominent African American sports stars.

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Yehudi, Yaltah, and Hephzibah Menuhin c. 1935 10 x 8 in. This appealing group portrait shows the Menuhin siblings, each a musical prodigy. Yehudi had just “celebrated his eighteenth birthday with a triumphant violin recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall,” according to Vanity Fair in March 1935. Although his sisters were equally talented—one had accompanied him on piano in two concerts—they would not achieve comparable success, as “Mrs. Menuhin believes that careers are for men only.”

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New York Giants Football Players c. 1935 8 x 10 in. Published in Vanity Fair, November 1935 “In 1934, the three stalwarts [here]—Ken Strong, Willis Smith, and Ed Danowski—plunged, scampered, and kicked the New York Giants into the championship of the National Football League.” This picture of “The Giants at Rest,” taken from a low vantage point, makes the men look like actual giants towering over the viewer. It accompanied a Vanity Fair article on the challenges faced by a typical football coach taking his team on the road.

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Jesse Owens 1935 14 x 11 in. Published in Vanity Fair, September 1935 When Nelson photographed Jesse Owens (1913–1980) in summer 1935, the athlete had just set three world records and tied a fourth at a track meet as part of the Ohio State University team. Just as the Vanity Fair caption predicted, he went on to even greater victory at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, winning four gold medals and combatting Adolf Hitler’s ideas about white racial superiority. In this posed studio shot, Owens leans forward as if in graceful motion.

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Richard Pitchford (Cardini the Magician) c. 1935 10 x 8 in. Published in Vanity Fair, February 1935 Englishman Richard Pitchford (1895–1973) went by the stage name Cardini, to indicate his skill at card tricks. He became very successful in New York nightclubs like the Casino de Paree, where he was “the sensational wizard of the moment” according to the February 1935 issue of Vogue. Nelson’s photographs appeared in both Vogue and Vanity Fair that month, showing Pitchford holding the cards, billiard balls, and lit cigarettes he had produced out of thin air.

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Igor Sikorsky and the Pan-American Clipper c. 1935 10 x 8 in. Nelson made a series of photographs at Newark airport for a July 1935 Vanity Fair article on Igor Sikorsky (1889–1972). The aircraft designer had recently developed the Clipper, a large commercial plane intended to carry passengers “for the first time in the history of aviation in the utmost luxury and comfort,” rather than in a cramped, military-style cabin. Nelson’s portrayal suggests the inventor’s mastery over a streamlined, modern machine that dwarfs him in size.

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Gypsy Rose Lee c. 1936 10 x 8 in. “For the past year, Gypsy Rose has been the undisputed queen of the New York strippers,” wrote a Vanity Fair author in 1936. Lee (born Rose Louise Hovick, 1911–1970) was considered a “refined” burlesque performer, celebrated as much for her wit as for removing her clothing. In this photograph, however, her provocative pose and lit cigarette, along with the sultry lighting, emphasize her physical allure.

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Roy E. Larsen c. 1936–37 10 x 8 in. Roy E. Larsen (1899–1979) served as a business manager of Time magazine from its inception in the early 1920s. He also played a major role in developing the radio and newsreel program The March of Time, which won an Academy Award in 1937. Nelson makes double reference to these professional accomplishments in his photograph, posing Larsen in front of a clock while he scans a strip of film that also shows a clock.

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Marian Anderson c. 1937 10 x 8 in. One of the most famous singers of her time, Marian Anderson (1897–1993) was also a civil rights pioneer. Nelson staged this portrait of her as a performance for a radio broadcast. In 1939, in one of her most celebrated appearances, Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, having been barred from performing at Constitution Hall because of her race.

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Margaret Anglin c. 1937 8 x 10 in. Published in Vogue, July 1, 1937 Canadian-born Margaret Anglin (1876–1958) became a celebrated US stage actress in the early twentieth century, noted especially for her roles in Greek tragedies and Shakespeare plays. Nelson photographed her near the end of her career for a Vogue article that highlighted her return to the stage after a hiatus of several years. Her fashionable ensemble and upscale surroundings signaled her revitalized elegance.

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NEW YORK CITY Nelson photographed New York from many different angles. As well as capturing recognizable skyscrapers like the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, he created almost abstract compositions whose perspectives emphasized the striking geometry of window-covered towers climbing toward the sky. New Yorkers themselves also featured prominently. He turned his lens on pedestrians hurrying along crowded sidewalks or elegantly silhouetted against paving stones in the shadow of an elevated train track, and on people struggling through the Depression, sleeping on the sidewalk or on public benches. These scenes were rarely published; instead, they serve as a record of Nelson’s fascination with his adopted home and with the wide range of experiences of his fellow city dwellers.

Chrysler Building (detail), 1933-35 Cat. 64 135


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Men Leaning against a Wall 1933 9 ¼ x 7 ¼ in. Nelson was deeply concerned by the plight of people struggling with unemployment and homelessness. As his wife noted, he took photographs like this one as a form of protest against the circumstances that caused such difficulties. Here two men lean against a wall covered with movie advertising posters, a juxtaposition that highlights the divide between the era’s hardships and its glamour.

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Man Seated in a Doorway c. 1933–35 6 ½ x 9 in. Signed lower right on mount

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Man Sleeping on a Loading Dock c. 1933–35 7 x 9 in. Signed lower right on mount

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Men on a Bench c. 1933–35 5 ¼ x 7 ¼ in.

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Crowd Viewed from Above c. 1933–35 8 x 10 in. Nelson took a series of shots of this crowd, recording the ebb and flow of people and the light shifting across their hats and upturned faces. One writer described the photographer in just such a situation, quoting him as exclaiming, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to photograph all those faces?” And he did so successfully here, capturing a sense of the personality of many individuals as they react to something outside the picture’s frame.

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Women in Silhouette c. 1933–35 5 ¼ x 6 in.

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Sidewalk from Above c. 1933–35 7 ¼ x 9 ¼ in.

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Congregation Shaarey Shomayim—First RoumanianAmerican Congregation c. 1933–35 5 ½ x 7 in. This building was located on Rivington Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (it was demolished in 2006). Because of its excellent acoustics, the synagogue was often used for concerts by cantors, who performed such programs in addition to leading the congregation in songs of prayer during services. Indeed, Nelson’s photograph centers on a group of people gathering in front of two concert announcements.

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Savoy-Plaza Hotel c. 1933–35 10 x 8 in. The Savoy-Plaza Hotel opened in 1927 on Fifth Avenue, across the street from the Plaza Hotel, and was torn down in 1964. Its distinctive third-story balustrade, ornamented with urns, is just visible at the bottom of this photograph. Nelson himself appears in a press photographer’s snapshot of the opening of the hotel’s lounge in 1934 (cat. 5).

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Daily News Building c. 1933–35 10 x 4 in. Nelson must have been particularly struck by the streamlined geometry of the Daily News building, an Art Deco landmark that was completed in 1930. He printed this negative in two different ways. In this version, he emphasized the building’s soaring verticality by cropping and printing the image in an unusually narrow format. In the other (cat. 63), he oriented the image diagonally on the paper, creating an almost abstract composition of angular light and dark shapes.

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Daily News Building c. 1933–35 10 x 8 in.

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Chrysler Building c. 1933–35 10 x 8 in.

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Empire State Building c. 1933–35 10 x 8 in.

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30 Rockefeller Plaza, with the Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas in the Foreground c. 1933–35 10 x 8 in. Nelson took a number of photographs in the neighborhood of Rockefeller Center. Here he focuses on the imposing tower at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, completed in 1933 and considered the centerpiece of the complex. The small church steeple and the cornice of a nearby building in the foreground create a slightly disorienting sense of scale.

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Skyline at Night c. 1933–35 8 x 10 in.

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View over the Rooftops c. 1933–35 7 x 9 ¼ in.

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Skyline with Sunburst—East Side of Manhattan Looking Southwest c. 1933–35 8 x 10 in. In this striking view, Nelson looks southwest over the rooftops of the Upper East Side toward the southern edge of Central Park. The two towers at the left in the distance are the Savoy-Plaza Hotel and the neighboring Essex House, the first identifiable by its double chimney, the second by its large neon sign.

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The El from Above c. 1933–35 8 x 10 in. This photograph depicts one of the four elevated train lines that crossed Manhattan at the time. Shooting at night, Nelson had to use a slow shutter speed, allowing light into the camera over a relatively long period of time so that the overall scene would be visible. As a result, the light of what seems to be a moving train registers as a long, continuous line snaking along the track, and other bright lights appear as intense white bursts.

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Factory c. 1933–35 10 x 8 in. In picturing this unidentified industrial building, Nelson created a strong geometric composition that hints at abstraction. Its striking modernity is reminiscent of other artists’ work, particularly that of painter and photographer Charles Sheeler, who had photographed and filmed New York City in the 1920s and had also made a series of studies of an automobile plant in Detroit.

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Queensboro Bridge 1934 3 ½ x 4 ½ in. Dated on reverse: April 1934 Standing at the edge of the East River on the Manhattan side, Nelson pointed his camera upward at the Queensboro Bridge. His perspective emphasizes the bridge’s complex, interwoven structural piers and trusses, rather than its span between Manhattan and Queens.

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Center Theatre, Sixth Avenue and 49th Street 1935 6 ¼ x 7 ¼ in.

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Roxy Theater Marquee 1935 7 ¼ x 4 ½ in. The Roxy, located just off Times Square, was the largest movie theater in the world when it was built in 1927. It featured lavish amenities as well as elaborate live performances to accompany Hollywood movies. In Nelson’s photograph, the marquee announces the movie Transatlantic Tunnel, a fanciful drama that opened in October 1935, while its dazzling lights dwarf the pedestrians below.

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Sidewalk Show c. 1937 8 x 10 in. Published in Vogue, August 1, 1937 Nelson took these two photographs of a sidewalk art exhibition for a Vogue feature on fall coats in which “fabric and fur co-star.” His spontaneous, unposed—and rather humorous— shots set the scene for the page layout; they were accompanied by larger, posed pictures of models in the featured fashions.

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Sidewalk Show c. 1937 10 x 8 in. Published in Vogue, August 1, 1937

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POPULAR ENTERTAINMENT As well as making carefully posed studio photographs, Nelson took his camera outdoors to popular leisure and entertainment sites. In 1934 and 1935, as his wife later noted, Nelson “developed a mania for the circus.” He followed the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey from Manhattan to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, capturing the energy, movement, and spectacle with a small, handheld camera. He approached Coney Island—a neighborhood in Brooklyn with a beach, boardwalk, and amusement parks—with a similar fascination. Snapping pictures from various vantage points, he captured the dynamic energy of New Yorkers seeking relief from their everyday lives. Many of these images appeared in photo-features in Vanity Fair, while one Coney Island image garnered the significant honor of inclusion in U.S. Camera magazine’s 1937 issue commemorating the best photographs of the year.

Peggy Taylor (detail), 1934 Cat. 85 185


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Circus Crowd c. 1934 5 x 4 in.

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Circus Stands c. 1934 5 x 4 in. Nelson was interested in all aspects of circus culture, from the spectators to the spectacle itself. For this candid shot, the photographer placed himself beneath the bleachers and angled his travel camera up toward the big top, capturing the unsuspecting spectators and their argyle socks, dangling feet, and rapt attention.

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Dorothy Herbert c. 1934 5 x 4 in. Published in Vanity Fair, August 1934 Dorothy Herbert (1910–1994), the “greatest equestrienne of the Greatest Show on Earth,” according to Vanity Fair, performs chilling acrobatic feats atop her rearing, jet-black horse, Satan. Nelson’s photographic series, taken at the Jersey City circus grounds, portrays her grinning and “nonchalant,” in daring acts that caused her audiences to “gasp in awestruck horror.” A circus superstar, Herbert was eventually inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame in 1978.

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Dorothy Herbert c. 1934 5 x 4 in.

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Dorothy Herbert c. 1934 5 x 4 in.

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Peggy Taylor c. 1934 14 x 11 in. Published in Vanity Fair, October 1934 In an October 1934 feature, Vanity Fair described dancer Peggy Taylor as a “major sensation in the current amusement life of New York” who defied the laws of gravity with her sensational acrobatics. Nelson photographed Taylor in action during her outdoor afternoon practice, “hurled, spun and catapulted into the air by her gymnastic male partners.” Thanks to Nelson’s dramatically low vantage point the performer’s lithe figure appears to merge with the low-hanging clouds.

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Peggy Taylor c. 1934 5 x 4 in. Published in Vanity Fair, October 1934 Peggy Taylor toured her acrobatic act around the world beginning in 1926. When in New York, she was a nightly feature at the Casino de Paree, a risqué dinner theater on 54th Street that advertised audacious dancers, sensational sideshows, and a “completely nude living little lady” in an ordinary size fish bowl. The theater closed in 1937.

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Peggy Taylor c. 1934 5 x 4 in. Published in Vanity Fair, October 1934

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Peggy Taylor c. 1934 5 x 4 in.

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Acrobat c. 1935 5 x 4 in. Published in Vanity Fair, May 1935

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Tex Elmland, Horse Trainer c. 1935 5 x 4 in. Vanity Fair published a slightly different shot of Tex Elmland, a “famous horse-trainer,” in a photo feature entitled “On the Road with the Circus” in May 1935. The “excitement and strangeness,” of the traveling circus was captured through Nelson’s photographs of Elmland and nine other performers, including a Circassian snake charmer and an inflated clown (cat. 88).

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Clown Getting Inflated c. 1935 5 x 4 in. Published in Vanity Fair, May 1935 A number of Nelson’s outdoor photographs from 1934–35 explore the strange, alternative reality— and sometimes the behind-the-scene charade—of the traveling circus, including this inflatable “fat” man dressed as a clown.

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Cartwheeling Clown c. 1935 5 x 4 in. This tumbling clown, caught midair executing a one-handed cartwheel, exposes Nelson’s experiments with modern handheld cameras and practices. Such contemporary experiments included capturing athletic movement, spontaneity, and the unexpected—all of which defined the greatest qualities of circus life itself.

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Coney Island c. 1935 10 x 8 in.

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Coney Island c. 1935 20 x 25 in. Published in Vanity Fair, September 1935 Collection of Karen Paul-Stern Nelson’s image of Coney Island focuses on the gleaming waves and bathers filling the beach. The vertically oriented, full-size version (cat. 90) offers greater context while accentuating the lively mass of urban pleasure-seekers who spread out to the horizon. This cropped version was published as a double-page spread in Vanity Fair in September 1935 and selected as a notable photograph by U.S. Camera in 1937.

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On the Beach at Coney Island c. 1935 8 x 10 in. Published in Vanity Fair, August 1935 Here Nelson depicts lovers stretched out on old newspapers and enjoying moments of private abandon on the sandy, overcrowded beaches of Coney Island. The advent of portable, smallformat cameras in the 1930s made it easier for photographers to capture such moments unseen. Nelson used three types of lightweight, miniature cameras, such as the Graflex and Leica, for his candid shots of contemporary life.

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Luna Park Signs c. 1935 8 x 10 in. Published in Vanity Fair, August 1935 Luna Park was one of three amusement parks at Coney Island. Its iconic entrance gates were photographed by Nelson as an abstract compilation of pinwheels, spires, and half-moons. Considered the heart of Coney Island before it burned down in 1944, Luna Park boasted attractions ranging from exotic dancers and elephant rides to the high-speed Kansas Cyclone and simulated excursions to the North Pole.

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Adolf Gobel’s Frankfurter on Roll c. 1935 6 ¾ x 8 ¾ in.

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American Frozen Custard c. 1935 8 x 10 in. Once a glamorous seaside getaway for the wealthy, Coney Island became, in the words of Vanity Fair, a popular and “public playground…of weekend pleasure seekers,” made up “of many million people—of every age, size, shape, and race.” Nelson’s photographs illustrate some popular attractions, “from the frozen custard and hot dog stands to the freak shows, the chutes, and the perilously thrilling roller coasters.”

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PICTURES THAT OPENED POCKETBOOKS Much of Nelson’s work was made on assignment for magazine editors or commercial clients. His fashion images appeared regularly in Vogue, sometimes accompanying articles like “Beauty High Jinks,” “Linen Dowry,” and “High-Stepping Sandals–Runabout Shoes,” and other times incorporated directly into advertisements for fine department stores. Dramatically spot lit and staged amid architectural settings, his models radiate an alluring physical immediacy.

His work for the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies served a very different purpose, but shared similar promotional goals. A large number of photographers—including prominent figures like Edward Steichen and Margaret Bourke-White—participated in group exhibitions that supported the Federation’s humanitarian activities. These memorable pictures were designed to “acquaint the public” with the Federation and “to stimulate interest in its emergency [fund] drive,” as noted in a New York Times article.

Cigarettes (detail), 1935-37 Cat. 109 225


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Convalescent c. 1934 10 x 8 in. Nelson’s pictures were shown alongside the work of other photographers in three Jewish Federation exhibitions, which aimed to raise public awareness of—and potential donations for—the Federation’s affiliated agencies. As the New York Times described one such show, “More than one-third of the photographs depict scenes in the wards, clinics, and waiting rooms…Others show activities in the orphanage, day nurseries, and fresh air camps.” Such heart-wrenching images were accompanied by poignant titles such as In Place of Mother, Crisis, and Suffering.

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Patient Sufferer c. 1934 8 x 10 in. In addition to photographing the culture of glamour, Nelson documented more distressing scenes of daily American life during the Great Depression. Patient Sufferer appeared in a 1934 Jewish Federation fundraising brochure intended to bring wider attention to the proliferation of those in need during these trying times.

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Operation c. 1934–35 6 ¼ x 8 in. Working from an elevated vantage point, Nelson documented doctors performing surgery on needy patients, 75 percent of whom were treated free of charge at Jewish Federation clinics.

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Boy Painting c. 1934–35 6 ¾ x 8 ¾ in. A Jewish Federation brochure from 1937 described the benefits of neighborhood recreation centers to needy children during the Great Depression. Nelson’s photographs of children painting, building birdfeeders, and fishing in fresh air camps highlighted the Federation’s belief that “neighborhood centers saved multitudes of growing boys and girls from the physical and moral dangers of the city streets, providing vital interests and healthy influences.”

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Prayer at Dusk c. 1935 8 x 10 in.

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Things to Save Lives c. 1935 8 x 10 in.

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102

Saline c. 1935 10 x 8 in. According to the artist’s wife, by summer 1936 Nelson was receiving two medical treatments a day for his Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His condition and personal familiarity with hospitals may have informed many of the clinical images he produced for the Jewish Federation. In still lifes such as Saline and Things to Save Lives (cat. 101), glass, metal, and gauze glow with an alluring light and angular precision. Ironically, the sterile objects of modern medicine appear at once ominous and reassuring.

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Ward on Wheels c. 1935 10 x 8 in. The July 1936 issue of Federation Illustrated included Nelson’s photographs of the newly developed Pirquet cubicle, which Mount Sinai Hospital instituted that same year. The “ward on wheels” was intended to prevent the spread of infection among newborns. Babies could be “given almost every type of care without being taken from the cubicles,” and parents could “see their babies at close range without risk of bringing in infections from the outside.”

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Helen Bennett Seated c. 1935–37 10 x 8 in.

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Helen Bennett Standing c. 1935–37 9 ½ x 7 ½ in.

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Model in a Fur Coat c. 1935–37 10 x 8 in. Earlier photography made heavy use of soft focus, but Nelson preferred a straightforward style with crisply delineated objects and textures. His approach was ideal for fashion, which sought to sell apparel and the sensual qualities of fine materials. Here a lean, fur-coated model poses between two deeply carved, twisting columns, evoking old-world elegance and cozy sophistication.

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Woman in Profile with an Ornamental Frame c. 1935–37 10 x 8 in.

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Black Sequined Sheath c. 1935–37 10 x 8 in.

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Cigarettes c. 1935–37 10 x 8 in. While Nelson may best be remembered as a portrait photographer, he captured still lifes and commercial products with equal finesse and artistry. His crisp, modern aesthetic and strong black-and-white contrasts make even a loosely arranged stack of cigarettes appear alluring and chic.

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Pitcher c. 1935–37 10 x 8 in. Nelson’s still lifes often presented common household and commercial wares as articles of high art. The photographer’s pictures of these subjects frequently appeared in magazine “advertorials” to promote the appeal of modern living through sleek, crisp styles. Along with his colleagues at Vanity Fair and Vogue, Nelson took advertising, fashion, and product placement to new artistic heights.

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Onions c. 1935–37 7 ¼ x 9 ½ in.

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“Correct Angle” Facial c. 1936 9 ½ x 7 ½ in. Published in Vogue, March 15, 1936

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Derma-Lens Facial c. 1936 7 ¼ x 9 ¼ in. Published in Vogue, March 15, 1936 A Vogue article entitled “Beauty High-Jinks” included Nelson’s photographs of a model at a spa undergoing complexion assessment and antiseptic facial steaming. Such trendy “scientific” treatments were available at Helena Rubinstein’s Saks Fifth Avenue Silhouette Shop and included essential vapor baths, “correct angle” facials (cat. 112), and the Derma-Lens machine, which purportedly purged the complexion of all impurities.

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Linen Dowry c. 1936 10 x 8 in. A lovely bride-to-be sits at the apex of this tunnellike photograph, checking her trousseau of neatly stacked, monogrammed bath towels and handembroidered sheets. The photo spread and caption accompanying a different shot in Vogue of April 1, 1936, encourages readers to be successful in their future domestic lives by welcoming the “charms of color, texture, and shape,� into their tastefully assembled linen chests.

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Caviar in Mother-of-Pearl Shells c. 1936 7 ¼ x 9 ½ in. Published in Vogue, July 15, 1936 A 1936 photo-feature in Vogue entitled “Inspirations for the Summer Hostess” ran with etiquette advice and Nelson’s photographs of artfully arranged table settings. It encouraged readers to “bake fish in the clam-shaped dishes; serve caviar in mother-of-pearl shells.” Nelson’s fine art photographs of “international platters” and “civilized desserts” helped Vogue cater to growing and sophisticated audiences.

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Woman with a Fur Stole c. 1937 10 x 8 in. Published in Vogue, September 1, 1937 This glamorous headshot of a model sporting a fur collar and dark, elliptical hat served as a shoe advertisement for Shortback Foot Saver Shoes. Nelson’s dramatic photograph was superimposed with illustrations of three styles of women’s shoes, ranging in price from $9.75 to $14.75. Foot Savers were “for the perfect fit at toe…and heel,” and clearly aimed to appeal to the modern woman’s sense of practical style and class.

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Woman in a Fur Coat and Hat c. 1937 10 x 8 in. Published in Vogue, October 15, 1937

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Woman’s Hand Holding a Piece of Jewelry c. 1937 10 x 8 in. Published in Vogue, November 15, 1937 In November 1937, Vogue ran this photograph of a hand model showing off red coral beads on an abundant gold and diamond-buckled bracelet and another image of an oblong aquamarine and diamond bracelet. The caption read: “The smartest women love them.” Nelson’s fashion imagery did more than sell high-end jewelry; it helped Vogue and Vanity Fair create a culture of smart glamour.

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Rose Ombré Toilette c. 1937 10 x 8 in. Published in Vogue, January 1, 1938 This fashion shot appeared as a full-page advertisement for the high-end department store Bergdorf Goodman. The studio’s ornate architectural prop provides a note of both classicism and flowery decadence, complementing the model’s upswept hairdo and plunging neckline. The advertising text reinforced Nelson’s romantic staging: “Rose ombré toilette to bloom seductively against Florida’s pale blue nights.”

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Woman in a White Hat and Gloves Holding a Purse c. 1937 7 ½ x 9 ½ in. Published in Vogue, January 1, 1938 This strikingly simple photograph from Vogue shows a model wearing a white felt brioche cap trimmed with blue grosgrain ribbon, her gloved hand resting on a kidskin purse. Nelson’s emphasis on elegance and purity are reinforced by the overall white tone, back lighting, and curved, art deco prop. The caption advises prospective buyers to knot the white felt streamers of the hat under the curls or simply to tie them “artlessly” under the chin.

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LUSHA NELSON CHRONOLOGY

1907

19 June: Luscha Katznelson is born in Riga, Latvia, Russian Empire.

1909

Irene Seplow is born in New York City.

c. 1922–32

Nelson works for a time as a sous-chef at Trojan Lake Lodge, a resort in Livingston Manor, New York, in the Catskills.

c. 1928–30

Nelson acquires his first camera.

1922

31 July: Luscha Katznelson, age fifteen, is listed as “shipped or engaged” as a mess boy on the SS Latvia, of the Baltic American Line, sailing from the port of Liepaja, Latvia, not to be paid off or discharged at port of arrival (“List or Manifest of Aliens Employed on the Vessel as Members of Crew,” in Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897–1957, microfilm T715, roll 3160, p. 134, National Archives and Records Administration [accessed on Ancestry.com, 28 Dec. 2016]). 17 Aug.: The SS Latvia arrives in New York. Nelson obtains shore leave papers but does not return to the ship (Memorandum of 3 June 1935, Lusha Nelson Collection, Philbrook Museum of Art Library, Special Collections; and Index to Alien Crewmen Who Were Discharged or Who Deserted at New York, New York, May 1917– Nov. 1957, National Archives and Records Administration [accessed on Ancestry.com, 28 Dec. 2016]).

1932

25 Mar.: Lusha Nelson and Irene Seplow are married. July: Nelson publishes a photograph of John Erskine in the pulp publication Illustrated Love Magazine. Aug.: Nelson publishes a photograph of Carl Van Doren in Wings literary magazine. 9 Sept.: Nelson publishes a photograph of Sherwood Anderson in the New York Times. Fall: Nelson becomes a staff photographer for Condé Nast Publications (Mrs. Lusha [Irene] Nelson, “Lusha Nelson: The Life of an American Photographer,” U.S. Camera Annual 1941 [1940] vol. 1, America, p. 118).

Nelson with His Wife, Irene (detail), c. 1936 Cat. 6 277


1934

travel until the bill became law (correspondence Fall: Nelson is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s in Lusha Nelson Collection, Philbrook Museum of Art Library, Special Collections). lymphoma (Nelson, “Lusha Nelson,” p. 119). 18 Sept.–6 Oct.: Five of Nelson’s photographs are included in the Photographic Exhibition Sponsored by the National Alliance of Art and Industry and the Photographic Illustrators, Inc. at the Mezzanine Gallery, RCA Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The works by Nelson are Diana Wynyard, Coco, Jimmy Savo, The Ebsen Dancers, and Study of a Negro.

30 Sept.: The U.S. Camera Salon opens at the Mezzanine Gallery, RCA Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza. At least one photograph by Nelson (cat. 82) is included, as is the photograph titled British Novelist (cat. 35) (New York Herald Tribune, 19 Sept. 1935).

1–2 Dec.: Twelve Nelson photographs (see cats. 101–102) are included in an exhibition illustrating 29 Oct.–2 Nov.: The Federation for the Support the activities of the 91 institutions affiliated of Jewish Philanthropic Societies organizes an with the Federation for the Support of Jewish exhibition of over seventy photographs and Philanthropic Societies of New York City (see drawings at the John Levy Galleries, 1 East Fifty- cats. 10–11) at the Ehrich-Newhouse Galleries, Seventh Street. Contributors include Nelson, 578 Madison Avenue. Edward Steichen, Arnold Genthe, Margaret Bourke-White, and others. Most of Nelson’s twelve photographs were taken at area hospitals 1936 22 June: Nelson re-enters the United States at (such as cats. 96–98). Niagara Falls, New York, accompanied by his sister Lesar Katzenrlson [sic] (Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, 1935 30 Mar.–5 Apr.: Nelson (living at 333 East and Rochester, New York, 1902–1954, microfilm Seventy-Ninth Street) writes to Senator Robert M1480, roll 98, National Archives and Records Wagner, whom Nelson had earlier photographed Administration [accessed on Ancestry.com, 28 for Vanity Fair (published in June 1935), Dec. 2016]). concerning his immigration status. Wagner replies, advising him that a bill had just been 18 July: Nelson departs for Europe. He spends introduced in Congress to legalize certain alien three weeks in his birthplace, Riga, and also visits residents in the United States, and that Nelson Holland, London, Madrid, Paris, and Pompeii. would qualify under the bill’s provisions. He further advises Nelson to postpone any foreign 278

LUSHA NELSON CHRONOLOGY


28 Sept.: Photographs by Nelson are included in 1938 the U.S. Camera Salon at the Mezzanine Gallery, 27 Feb.: An exhibition organized by the New York 30 Rockefeller Plaza. and Brooklyn Federations of Jewish Charities of 151 photographs opens at the Jacques Seligmann Winter: Nelson sends inscribed portrait of Galleries, 3 East Fifty-First Street. Contributors himself by photographer André Durst home to to the show include Nelson, Steichen, and Martin his wife and new baby from Paris (cat. 17), along Munkacsi (New York Times, 27 Feb. 1938). with a bottle of Calvados. He receives treatment (“at the rate of two a day”) for his illness (Nelson, 4 May: Lusha Nelson dies of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “Lusha Nelson,” p. 119). His residence at the time is 152 East Ninety18 Dec.: Alice Nelson, the only child of Irene and Lusha, is born in New York City.

Fourth Street.

1950 1937

June: Irene Nelson dies. Her daughter, Alice, becomes the sole heir of Irene and Lusha Nelson.

14–22 Jan.: Nelson sails from Le Havre to New York on the SS Champlain (“List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigrant 2015 Inspector at Port of Arrival,” in Passenger and Philbrook Museum of Art acquires Lusha Nelson Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New Collection. York, 1897–1957, microfilm T715, roll 5927, p. 4, National Archives and Records Administration [accessed on Ancestry.com, 28 Dec. 2016]). 17 Mar.–18 Apr.: Nelson has four photographs included in the first photography exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Photography 1839–1937. The photographs are Jesse Owens (probably cat. 46), Sikorsky (similar to cat. 48), Mayor La Guardia, and Cecil Beaton. 18 Oct.: The U.S. Camera Salon, which includes photographs by Nelson, opens at the Mezzanine Gallery, International Building, 630 Fifth Avenue. LUSHA NELSON CHRONOLOGY

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Baltic Contribution,” Vanity Fair, July 1933, p. 5. Carter, Graydon, et al. Vanity Fair, The Portraits: A Century of Iconic Images. New York: Abrams, 2008. Crowninshield, Frank. “Vogue . . . Pioneer in Modern Photography.” Vogue, 15 June 1941, p. 72. [Hopkins, Isabel]. “Lusha Nelson—Photographer.” Unpublished article, c. 1935. Philbrook Museum of Art Library, Special Collections. Nelson, Mrs. Lusha [Irene]. “Lusha Nelson: The Life of an American Photographer.” U.S. Camera Annual 1941 (1940), vol. 1, America, pp. 117–28, 253. Raeburn, John. A Staggering Revolution: A Cultural History of Thirties Photography. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Seebohm, Caroline. The Man Who Was Vogue. New York: The Viking Press, 1982. Steichen, Edward. “The Lusha Nelson Photographs of Alfred Stieglitz.” U.S. Camera Magazine, no. 8 (Feb.–Mar. 1940), pp. 16–19. Stephen White Gallery of Photography. The Fashionable World. Los Angeles: Stephen White’s Gallery, 1979.

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ABOUT PHILBROOK

Rooted in the beauty and architecture of an historic home gifted by the Phillips family more than 78 years ago, Philbrook Museum of Art has grown to become one of the preeminent art museums across the central United States. The Philbrook main campus spans 25 acres of grounds and formal gardens, and features an historic home displaying highlights from the Museum’s permanent collection. The satellite location in downtown Tulsa showcases a vibrant program of changing exhibitions focusing on Native American, modern, and contemporary art. Learn more at philbrook.org

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Lusha Nelson Photographs  

Lusha Nelson (Latvian-American, 1907-1938) was a promising young staff photographer who worked for Condé Nast Publications from 1932-1938 an...

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