Edward Quinn, Photographer

The Edward Quinn Archive

Glamour of the Fifties

By Edward Quinn
I never imagined in my youth that one day I might be a professional
photographer. I was very interested in music and in aviation
and during World War II I joined the RAF and became a radio
navigator.
After the war I continued to work in aviation, flying charter planes
and on one of the flights I met my future wife. She lived and
worked in Monte Carlo and this meant for me that I had to
look out for a job down on the Riviera, I soon realized that it
would be possible to earn my living as a photographer. The
place was ideal, the right people - interesting to the press -
were to be found along the coast, it was just the right moment
to work in that profession.
I learned as quick as I could and as much as I could about
photography and in a reasonably short time I was ready for
action. I did not possess any motorcar, so I rambled around
Monaco and Monte Carlo photographing just what I noticed.
My first money I earned by selling photographs to Navy
officers and sailors of their warships H.M.S. Mermaid and
H.M.S. Magpie anchored for a few days in Monaco harbour.
I remember that I sold about 100 copies of each photograph.
Unfortunately I did not make any profit, as I had to have the
photographs enlarged by a professional.
After having shot a considerable number of trial pictures,
I considered I might be able to make photos of news value.
I then had to find out what kind of photographs would interest
newspapers and magazines and wrote to some English
and American dailies and magazines.
Photos of people in the news were very much in demand.
However there also was a need of glamour pictures and I
got instructions of the kind of pictures wanted. The American
National Enquirer for instance sent copies of pictures they
used and wrote “As you can see, we prefer the bikini
swimsuit and the type of figure that fills it well”.
I read up articles telling me how to get the best pictures. They
talked about model lists which had to be studied so as to
choose the right model who would coincide with one’s plans.
They gave indications of the props which one should bring
along to make a picture more lively, for instance a piece of
bric-a-brac which would break the monotonous sand and
stimulate the imagination, or a guitar to break a drab stretch
of beach and bring an unusual touch to the picture. Certain
elements of natural props at a harbour for instance, should
be separated from the rest and used as elements of
suggestion.
The costuming of the model should be appropriate to her
actions. Her hair should be lacquered down or left free to
blow in the right direction. A make-up kit should be brought
just in case the model’s make-up needed repair and
indications were given that Max Factor’s pancake N 25 etc.
was very good for black and white photos, while the 3N etc.
could be used for color pictures also etc. All this advice and
the well meant instructions were unfortunately of not much use
to me as most of my work could not be programmed or pre-
arranged, but had to be done by improvisation.
In those days doing glamour photographs was part of a
photographer’s routine. Pretty girls were still pleased to get
their picture published in a newspaper or magazine, but it was
not possible to choose models from a list. No model agency
existed on the Côte d’Azur, so I had to find the attractive girls
myself.
The obvious place to notice pretty girls was of course the beach.
Whenever I saw a girl who in all probability would photograph
well, I just went up to her and asked politely would she mind if
I took her photograph. The girls usually accepted willingly,
however there was no question of looking for the appropriate
background or asking them to change their hairstyle or costume.
I had to make the best of the existing situation.
I also followed the beauty contests which were frequently
staged on the Riviera and where the “Reine de la Côte d’Azur”,
“Reine de Nice“ and other queens were elected. When the girls
were really pretty I would try and photograph them some other
day. I always looked out for lively girls with a natural charm and
graceful movements with a lovely, heart-warming smile, not the
kind of “say cheese” smile.
I had the chance of meeting one exceptional girl, Greta Thysegen
from Denmark. She had come to Nice for a holiday in the sun.
I noticed her walking along the Promenade des Anglais.
It was with a set of photographs of Greta that I made my first
break into the realm of cover photos for magazines. The magazine
ILLUSTRATED, one of the great picture magazines in England,
used a cover and a set of photos and organized a readers contest
to choose the most popular pose.
When a film company would come to the Côte d’Azur, I would
always go and see if there were any attractive girls amongst
the cast.
It was at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo while I was watching
a rehearsal on the set of the film “Monte Carlo Baby” that I noticed
a girl playing a small part. I was immediately fascinated. I
approached her and asked her if it would be possible to go out on
a photo session to some picturesque backgrounds. She accepted
and we went out the following day in my small two-seater Mathis
car model 1930.
I found out that her name was Audrey Hepburn. She had been a
dancer and had done some small parts in films, but was unknown
to the general public.
When I showed Audrey the contact prints of the photographs the
next day, she was very excited and said she had never been
photographed in such a variety of poses. She asked if she could send
them straight away to her agent in Hollywood, of course I agreed.
He showed them to the Paramount heads and she was asked to go
to America for a screen test and consequently got the leading part
in the film “Roman Holiday”
Up to the fifties the type of feminity which was popular was personified
by stars who had great style and elegance, like Ingrid Bergman, Grace
Kelly, Michèle Morgan. But then the morals were changing, and the
public’s taste in feminine beauty also changed. A new wave of film
stars, the denuded beauties, came. These alluring beauties were
lauded as sex symbols and the public, especially in America, began
to admire and idolize the glamorous women with prominent busts
and sleeky figures.
This was the time Brigitte Bardot made her debut. She was not yet
18 end practically unknown when I saw her for the first time. She
had come to the Riviera to make one of her first films “Manina, la
fille sans voiles”. I noticed straight away that she was an excellent
model, her movements were very lithe, she walked and posed
gracefully. She quite naturally got into poses which showed her
body off advantageously and it was obvious why she became
known as “sex kitten”.
I photographed a great number of very attractive girls, none were
professional photo models. Many became film actresses, others
married famous men – the American model Gregg Sherwood
married Horace Dodge of the motorcars, the beauty queen Myriam
Bru wed the German actor Horst Buchholz, the French fashion
model Eliette Mouret became the wife of the famous conductor
Herbert von Karajan. Glamour photography could be quite useful,
very often after having tried in vain to find a personality interesting
to the press, one could be practically sure to get at least some
pictures of a pretty girl one spotted on the beach.
When I looked for the photographic material for a film project about
pin ups, l was amazed to realize that most of the pictures I took in
the middle of this century, forty or fifty years ago, could have been
taken nowadays. The girls I photographed would certainly draw
attention, not because they look old fashioned, but because of t
heir beauty and charm. Their swim suits or beach outfit, their
hairstyle, their make-up, nothing seems to differ much from the
present fashion. Of course the beaches have changed, lonely
spots along the coast are certainly rare nowadays.
If by comparison one remembers photographs of young ladies
taken at some fashionable summer resort at the beginning of this
century, the difference with the girls I photographed in the fifties
seems enormous. One has in mind pictures of ladies, practically
fully dressed, carrying a pretty sunshade, dipping their foot into
the sea at the water's edge. If those photos would be compared
with my pictures of the fifties, nobody could possibly mistake the
period.


Header photo: Edward Quinn, Zurich 1983. © Eric Bachmann