FLEA MARKET PHOTOBOOKS: 20 / APR / 2022
by Jack Emerald
The Fountain Press: London, 1950
Reviewed by Annebella Pollen
Portrait photographers at mid-century faced a new problem, according to Jack Emerald, one of their number. "In the good old days", soft focus lenses enabled sitters to look their "impossible best". Other time-honoured techniques included retouching the negative with knife and pencil, "removing a wrinkle here, or a piece of the jaw-line there". Emerald complained that this work is tedious and costly, and that a discerning public increasingly recognises a retouched photograph when it sees it, much to the embarrassment of its sitter. His solution is photographic make-up, which he says is steadily becoming part of the working equipment of portraitists worldwide. In this approach, retouching takes place before the photograph is taken, and thus "the lily is gilded first".
Photographic Make-Up enabled Emerald to share knowledge acquired through many years of using cosmetics in his studio, and to publish some of his portraits of British film stars (mostly now forgotten, from cover star Kimm Kendall to Lynnette Rae). These illustrations appear alongside further photographic examples supplied by Ealing and Pinewood film studios and especially by the Max Factor Make-Up Studio, Hollywood. Max Factor Jr, son of the Oscar-winning make-up artist, provided the foreword, and a Max Factor advertisement appeared next to an Ilford promotion at the back of the book. Each advertisement speaks to the other, to show make-up and photography’s intertwined bases. Ilford’s HP3 film "has the right balance of colour sensitivity for modern make-up materials". Max Factor’s Panchromatic foundation had famously been devised, back in 1928, to meet the technical requirements of the new sensitive black-and-white film emulsion.
Emerald supplies fifteen exhausting pages of guidance on women’s make-up. Beginning with a base coat to cover all imperfections, multiple products are then used to draw improved features back in. This section is illustrated by a sequence of transformative photographs of an unnamed model, culminating in a dramatic portrait displaying her glossy, illuminated and contoured face. Men are dealt with in a page-and-a-half. Emerald observes that their appearance "could often be improved from the photographer’s standpoint with a carefully applied make-up. On the motion picture set", he adds, "no self-respecting artist" would go before a camera without it, but even professional actors struggle to make the connection between the movie set and the photographic studio. In the face of masculine fragility, he advises readers to "tread warily" or risk "an outburst of manly wrath little short of catastrophic". A single male photograph is shown, of the comic actor, Jimmy Edwards.
In fact, men’s make-up does feature in the book, although mostly in later sections. In the chapter devoted to "Character Make-up", for example, Alec Guinness’ metamorphosis into Fagin for David Lean’s 1948 adaptation of Oliver Twist is featured. Much is made of the practical difficulty of affixing a huge rubber nose to the actor’s face, but its implications are left unspoken. On its US release, the film was subject to protest, postponement and ultimately cuts for its portrayal of an offensive Jewish stereotype. The chapter shows make-up’s magical power to turn 25-year-old Agnes Moorhead, for example, into a 105-year-old woman, but also to turn white actors into "Indians" or "Chinese". Here make-up and photography are more grotesquely intertwined; both assume white skin as "normal". The chapter on colour photography does not address this directly but acknowledges that the staginess of make-up for black-and-white portraiture cannot be continued: "Any excess of highlighting or shading will completely kill the colour photograph". Models for colour photography should thus be selected "with a great deal more care".
The expense of publishing colour images in 1950 perhaps explains their exclusion. Despite the premise of glamour underpinning much of its advice, Britain was living in austere times. Emerald highlights the lack of availability of some materials he discusses, specifically fish skin and collodion, specialist fabrics and substances used to approximate scar tissue for theatrical effect. The final chapter, on clinical make-up, considers the cosmetic enhancement of faces already scarred, with a list that includes splintering glass, acid burns, industrial explosions and radium treatment. Emerald notes that portraitists can sometimes be called upon to produce photographs of sitters who have been "marred in some way". The recent war seems to figure in his observations that "hundreds of people" are "walking round in broad daylight" with facial wounds. His suggestions are meant to enable greater access to portraiture, but it is notable that this chapter is unillustrated. In fact, although the book doesn’t draw attention to it, facial scarring is present in the photographs. Jimmy Edwards grew his trademark handlebar moustache to cover an injury suffered when his RAF plane was shot down in 1944, and for which he underwent reconstructive surgery. He was a member of the affectionately titled Guinea Pig Club, comprised of patients of an experimental burn treatment unit in Sussex. Photographic Make-Up conceals some of its photographs’ most interesting stories.