The floating face: Garbo, photography and death masks

Henning, Michelle ORCID: (2017) The floating face: Garbo, photography and death masks. Photographies, 10 (2). pp. 157-178. ISSN 1754-0763

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A number of writers have noted the influence of Ernst Benkard’s 1927 book of death masks, Das Ewige Antlitz, on Modernist artists and writers of the inter-war period. This article links it specifically to the emergence in the late 1920s of a very particular way of photographing people, termed here “the floating face”, which is epitomised in publicity portraits of Greta Garbo. It is suggested that this photographic convention is linked to changing attitudes associated with war, to the techniques of cinema, and to surrealism, but also to the influence of Benkard’s book. The resemblance between the death mask image and movie star portrait is significant for an understanding of the origins and affective impact of a certain photographic style. This essay also suggests that the death mask as a figure in film and photography theory emerges out of this particular style of photography, and this specific social and cultural context, but then becomes applied to “the photograph” in general. It is argued that the idea of photographs as like death masks is overdetermined by the social and cultural context of 1920s Europe.

Item Type: Article
Identifier: 10.1080/17540763.2016.1266691
Keywords: photography, photography history, photography theory, Hollywood stars, death masks, 1930s Germany, cultural history
Subjects: Arts > Cultural history
Media > Media history and theory
Media > Photography
Arts > Art and design history
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Michelle Henning
Date Deposited: 15 May 2017 09:40
Last Modified: 06 Feb 2024 15:52


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