John Swope Exhibit Shows the True Face of Hollywood

By Meyers, Laura | Art Business News, November 2000 | Go to article overview

John Swope Exhibit Shows the True Face of Hollywood


Meyers, Laura, Art Business News


LOS ANGELES--When photographer John Swope came to Hollywood in 1936, he broke the mold.

At the time, Hollywood's Golden Era, the film industry fed the public a constant stream of glamorous photographs and tidbits about the lives of stars like Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and Cary Grant. And movie studios encouraged photographers like George Hurrell to create an idealized landscape of their industry by shooting carefully-lit, stylized pictures of Hollywood at its most alluring and, indeed, sexiest.

But Swope was different. He used his Leica to document Hollywood as a working town full of struggle, hope and success. And now, his photographs are part of a traveling exhibit that has already been presented in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Vancouver, British Columbia. It is currently at the Fresno Metropolitan Museum in California through Nov. 18, and is slated to travel next year to the Marietta College Museum in Georgia and the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington.

Producer Leland Hayward, who initially hired Swope as an assistant producer and publicity photographer for his stable of stars, later recalled that "John Swope's single idea, from the moment he began, was to show Hollywood as it is." Swope saw Hollywood as a culture, but the men and women who made the movies as regular working folk, whether they were pals Fonda and Stewart, or the thousands upon thousands of would-be actors, extras and grips waiting for their next jobs or unemployment checks.

While Hurrell and his contemporaries dressed their film stars in luxurious garb and bathed them in studio lights, Swope's approach was more "naturalistic," according to his son, Mark Swope. "He shot in available light, with available timing, on `found' sets," explained the younger Swope. An extra sleeping on the grass between takes, whisky bottle at his side. Other extras knitting. An actress washing her laundry in the sink. Swope also shot the "backside" of movie sets--stage lighting above a scene, a prop in a warehouse, workers building a "city" on a studio lot. …

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