Louise Dahl-Wolfe

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Louise Dahl-Wolfe
Louise Dahl-Wolfe
Louise Emma Augusta Dahl

(1895-11-19)November 19, 1895
San Francisco, California
DiedDecember 11, 1989(1989-12-11) (aged 94)
Alma materCalifornia School of Fine Arts
Known forPhotography
Spouse(s)Meyer Wolfe (m. 1928-1985)

Louise Dahl-Wolfe (November 19, 1895 – December 11, 1989) was an American photographer. She is known primarily for her work for Harper's Bazaar, in association with fashion editor Diana Vreeland.


Louise Emma Augusta Dahl was born November 19, 1895 in San Francisco, California to Norwegian immigrant parents, she was the youngest of three daughters. In 1914, she began her studies at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Institute of Art), where she studied design and color with Rudolph Schaeffer, and painting with Frank Van Sloan. She took courses in life drawing, anatomy, figure composition and other subjects over the next six years. After graduating, Dahl-Wolfe worked in designing electric signs and interiors. In 1921, Dahl-Wolfe met with photographer Anne Brigman, who inspired her to take up photography.[1] Her first dark-room enlarger was a makeshift one she built herself, which used a tin can, an apple crate, and a part of a Ghirardelli chocolate box for a reflector.[2] She studied design, decoration and architecture at Columbia University, New York in 1923. From 1927 to 1928, Dahl-Wolfe traveled with photographer Consuelo Kanaga, who furthered her interest in photography. Her first published photograph, titled Tennessee Mountain Woman, was published in Vanity Fair (U.S. magazine 1913–36).[3] In 1928 she married the sculptor Meyer Wolfe, who constructed the backgrounds of many of her photos.[4][5]


Dahl-Wolfe was known for taking photographs outdoors, with natural light in distant locations from South America to Africa in what became known as "environmental" fashion photography. Compared to other photographers at the time who were using red undertones, Dahl-Wolfe opted for cooler hues and also corrected her own proofs, with one example of her pulling proofs repeatedly to change a sofa's color from green to a dark magenta.[6]

Photograph of Orson Welles and his family taken by Dahl-Wolfe, published in Harper's Bazaar

She preferred portraiture to fashion photography. Notable portraits include: Mae West, Cecil Beaton, Eudora Welty, W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Orson Welles, Carson McCullers, Edward Hopper, Colette and Josephine Baker. She is known for her role in the discovery of a teenage Lauren Bacall whom she photographed for the March 1943 cover of Harper's Bazaar. One of her favourite subjects was the model Mary Jane Russell, who is estimated to have appeared in about thirty percent of Dahl-Wolfe's photographs.[7][8] She was a great influence on photographers Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. One of her assistants was fashion and celebrity photographer, Milton H. Greene.[9]

From 1933 to 1960, Dahl-Wolfe operated a New York City photographic studio that was home to the freelance advertising and fashion work she made for stores including Bonwit Teller and Saks Fifth Avenue. From 1936 to 1958 Dahl-Wolfe was a staff fashion photographer at Harper’s Bazaar. She produced portrait and fashion photographs totaling 86 covers, 600 color pages and countless black-and-white shots. She worked with editor Carmel Snow, art director Alexey Brodovitch and fashion editor Diana Vreeland, and traveled widely. In 1950, she was selected for "America's Outstanding Woman Photographers" in the September issue of Foto. From 1958 until her retirement in 1960, Dahl-Wolfe worked as a freelance photographer for Vogue, Sports Illustrated, and other periodicals.

Louise Dalhl-Wolfe lived many of her later years in Nashville, Tennessee. She died in New Jersey of pneumonia in 1989.[10] The full archive of Dahl-Wolfe's work is located at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) at the University of Arizona in Tucson, which also manages the copyright of her work.[11]

In 1999, her work was the subject of a documentary film entitled Louise Dahl-Wolfe: Painting with Light. The film featured the only surviving modern footage of Dahl-Wolfe, including extensive interviews. It was written and directed by Tom Neff, edited by Barry Rubinow and produced by Neff and Madeline Bell.

Selected works[edit]

  • Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Photographer’s Scrapbook (New York: St. Martin’s/Marek, 1984)


  1. ^ "Louise Dahl-Wolfe (American, 1895 - 1989) (Getty Museum)". The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  2. ^ "Portraits of Women by Women: Photographers Capture Legends - Moore Women Artists". Moore Women Artists. 2015-08-03. Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  3. ^ "Louise Dahl-Wolfe". International Center of Photography. 2016-05-17. Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  4. ^ Louise Dahl-Wolfe. National Museum of Women in the Arts. 2012. Accessed March 29, 2013.
  5. ^ Eauclaire, Sally. "Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Retrospective Exhibition" National Museum of Women in the Arts. 1987.
  6. ^ "The Pioneering Vision of Louise Dahl-Wolfe". Harper's BAZAAR. 2016-02-29. Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  7. ^ Rowlands, Penelope (2010). A Dash of Daring: Carmel Snow and Her Life In Fashion, Art, and Letters. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781416516217.
  8. ^ Horyn, Cathy (8 December 2003). "Mary Jane Russell, 77, Model Seen Often on Magazine Covers". New York Times. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  9. ^ Museum of Contemporary Photography
  10. ^ Obituary (13 December 1989). "Louise Dahl-Wolfe, A Photographer, 94". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  11. ^ "Conditions for Publication of Photographs" (PDF file)

Further reading[edit]

  • Eauclaire, Sally. "Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Retrospective Exhibition" (National Museum of Women in the Arts; 1987)
  • Goldberg, Vicki; Richardson, Nan. Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Retrospective (Harry N. Abrams; 2000)
  • Martin, Leslie A. (ed.) Louise Dahl-Wolfe (Abrams. 2000)

External links[edit]