Back in the ‘classic’ Hollywood days, still photography went hand-in-hand with filmmaking, to the point that photo negatives were just as important as the reel of the film being produced. Publicity shots made the film and its stars eternally shine. Photographers had to show a keen flattering eye for capturing the stars of the film, as the public’s perception, and success of the film, heavily depended on them.
Karina Longworth– author of the book Hollywood Frame By Frame— is shining the spotlight on old Hollywood photographers, by putting together a collection of contact sheets from 1951 to 1997, that show famous actors on-set of some of Hollywood’s most famous movies.
In 1910, cinematographers were often the ones snapping photos on set for magazines, ads, and production. Then in the 1930’s, a special “unit photographer” position was created to help feed the media frenzy for celebrity news. The output of these photographs was highly edited, any extras that weren’t chosen would never be released to the public, and were kept private to help preserve the image of the Hollywood stars.
It’s sad to say that many contact sheets were trashed after the movie released or had public run. Longworth notes in the book, “as photographer Bruce McBroom, who shot stills on the sets of films such as What’s Up Doc?, The Godfather Part II, and 48 Hours puts it: ‘Most of Hollywood history has survived because someone dug it out of the trash.”