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LOUISE DAHL-WOLFE (1895-1989)

Louise Dahl-Wolfe was born in San Francisco and attended the California School of Design (now the San Francisco Art Institute).  Her interest in photography grew after meeting photographer Annie W. Brigman in 1921, but it took almost a decade for Dahl-Wolfe to actually pursue her hobby seriously.  

After a brief stint designing electronic signs in New York, working for a decorator in San Francisco, and travelling in Italy and Morocco with photographer Consuelo Kanaga, Louise met and married sculptor Meyer (Mike) Wolfe. After a detour to the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee in 1932, where she created a strong portrait series of the mountain people, Dahl-Wolfe arrived in New York.  Her work appeared first in Vanity Fairand garnered favorable notice.  Edward Steichen subsequently included her photographs in his vast 1937 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, alongside that of Walker Evans and Edward Weston.  

After various freelance assignments for Saks Fifth Avenue, Bonwit Teller, Neiman Marcus, and other department stores, Dahl-Wolfe was signed to a contract with Harper’s Bazaar that was to last for over a quarter of a century.  The advent of one-shot Kodachrome film made color photography in fashion magazines a practicable proposition, and Dahl-Wolfe’s sensitivity to the new medium was a considerable asset.  From 1936 on, Harper’s Bazaar featured her work on eighty-six covers, using over six hundred of her color photographs and thousands of her black-and-whites on its inside pages.  Dahl-Wolfe worked closely with editor Carmel Snow, art director Alexey Brodovitch, and Diana Vreeland, and her photographs became a byword for exquisite color and formal sophistication as well as the representation of the energized, healthy, American outdoor girl.  Her admirers included Richard Avedon, who would later say of her: “She was the bar we all measured ourselves against.”

Louise Dahl-Wolfe lived many of her later years in Nashville, Tennessee and died in 1989.  After her death, she was the subject of a documentary film entitled “Louise Dahl-Wolfe: Painting with Light”, which was released in 1999.  A major retrospective exhibition of Louise Dahl-Wolfe photographs launched during the Photo Espana Photography Festival in Madrid in 2016, and the exhibition travelled to the Pavillon Populaire in Montpellier, France in 2017 and the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, England in 2018.

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