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© David S. Shields

Photographer: John Engstead    Jul 23, '10 6:26 AM
by David for group historicalziegfeld #456

John Engstead (1909-1982) had a curious career. He began at the top, supervising still photography at Paramount Hollywood--not shooting images--just assigning shoots & determining which images would be forwarded to publicity. When the labor agitations of the Depression caused the Paramount camera department to strike in 1932, Engstead took off his administrator hat, and scabbed. He proved to be as good as any person on the regular roster & did stills & portrait work until the general house cleaning that took place in 1941 at Paramount that led to the firing of most of the camera staff.

He was immediately hired by Harper's Bazaar and supplied ad and portrait shots throughout the 1940s. It was at this time that he discovered his metier--making mature women look glamorous without tarting them up. There was a phrase that circulated L.A. for the frequently inappropriate girling up of women in the upper 30s through 50s--"mutton dressed as lamb". Engstead found a visual language--a set of poses, attitudes, settings--that made beauty age appropriate.

In the 1950s he established a studio in Beverly Hills that became a place to consort with established Hollywood talent. When television established itself, Engstead made a point of shooting publicity for the networks. While active in the early 1960s, he grew increasingly bored with portrait work and began experimenting in the dark room.

While he in no way can be viewed as a figure of the Ziegfeld era, except in a Hollywood context, he is worth noting because of his creation of a visual vocabulary surrounding older leading women. David Shields/Profdash


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