The 1920s and 1930s were a golden era for studio photography. In this room an assortment of actors, heiresses and other celebrities pose for the camera. British photographer Cecil Beaton’s elegant and highly staged style put him much in demand among a class of people once described as the ‘photocracy’.
In Germany, one of the most successful studios was run by Yva, whose images for a range of glossy magazines included a shoot of celebrities from behind, challenging readers to guess their identity. Also in Berlin, Helmar Lerski invited ordinary people from the street or the employment office to his studio, believing that he could bring out their hidden qualities and moods using specific lighting. His portraits recall the expressive close-ups of silent films.
James van der Zee was an African American photographer who depicted many of the best known figures of the Harlem Renaissance. His portraits also show the growing sense of pride and social confidence among Harlem’s middle classes.
The 1920s saw the invention of the photobooth, which combined both the anonymity of the street and the privacy of the studio. Initially set up in New York’s theatre district, they quickly spread across the United States and Europe.