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Monday, April 28, 2008

"Every culture needs beauty," American expatriate photographer Miguel Gavin says. "And every culture defines what ‘beauty’ is."

Jazz Age Beauties: The Lost Collection of Ziegfeld Photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston by Robert Hudovernik is a truly stunning photographic assemblage of the Ziegfeld girls. Indeed, Johnston bewitches, fascinates and enchants the viewer with his subjects- dancers and performers- real beauties of the Jazz Age, trained to reveal a mesmerizing "line of beauty": chin held high and confident, gaze aloof, posture elevating and long.
In addition to scores of photographs, the book also provides the reader with background on the creation of the Ziegfeld Follies as well as stories and captions about the many girls who were trained to embody Ziegfeld’s vision of beauty. Certainly Ziegfeld had his own formula of beauty which cast aside any woman of "ethnic type" and promoted the Anglo-Saxon woman. Furthermore, Ziegfeld forbade suntans and promoted the "protection of whiteness."

Despite Ziegfeld's narrow vision of beauty, one cannot help but admire the craft of these young women. While many of the photographs are nudes, they are not photos exposing skin for the sake of exposing skin. These women were highly trained in their craft, every aspect of the photo--scene drapes, costuming, posture, gaze and poise--designed to present a "cathedral of beauty", dimming the uncertainty, struggle and pain of World War I.