Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Share the Fantasy

It seems that there are two schools of thought amongst magazine editors (and perhaps readers as well) about whether homeowners should be photographed in published interiors. There are those editors (and again, readers) who prefer that the focus of the article be strictly on the interiors. I suppose that if the homeowner is featured lounging on the sofa, for example, it might make it difficult for us to envision ourselves in that home. It's just like when you put your home on the market and the real estate agent tells you to rid all surfaces of family photographs; if you leave them out, you might lose a potential buyer.

On the other hand, there are those who want the interiors to have a face attached to them. Perhaps we are curious as to who lives there. Quite frankly, I see both sides of the coin and am fine either way. But what about staged photographs in which a model is shown, oh, I don't know, drinking cocktails or taking tea? You really don't see that too often anymore. In my trove of old magazines from the 30s and 40s, I found vignette shots in which actor and model types were shown doing various things that helped to emphasize what the photograph was all about. If the topic of the article was having drinks on the lanai, well then, people were shown drinking on the lanai. If the article was about a bridal shower, a so-called bride to be and her mother were photographed looking wistfully over a table set with china, silver, and other finery.

I have to say that I kind of like the idea of these types of photos. I totally understand why a magazine might avoid such shots; after all, one man's fantasy is another man's idea of hell. I would gloss right over a photo that showed someone tilling in a field, while my neighbor might stop and fantasize about owning land on which to till. But if the photo showed people in fancy dress? Well, I'd buy into the fantasy. And if someone was dolled up whilst sitting at a beautiful table? Yes, that photo would also set me off into a world of daydreaming. I guess we read into the photos what we want to.

If my home were photographed for a magazine, I would secretly wish that I could be photographed along with it while wearing a gorgeous outfit. I could be setting the table for a chic little dinner party (like that woman at the top of this post), or perhaps I could be sitting on my sofa drinking champagne along with my significant other, or even taking breakfast on my balcony (in my Fernando Sanchez robe, by the way- oh, and full makeup, of course.) Well, a girl can have her fantasies, can't she?

What? You don't dress like this while having "lunch in the country on a romantic June day"? (House & Garden, June 1948)

Please remind me never to be photographed doing housework. That is no fantasy of mine! (House & Garden, February 1948)

This woman was a least for the photo, she was. Life is good when you have that Queen Anne silver tea service, champagne coupes, and a hubby who looks so dapper. (House & Garden, October 1936)

The title of this article was "Roll Your Own"- and they were not advocating rolling your own funny cigarettes (come on, I know that is what you thought) but rather bar carts. Love those dresses. (House & Garden, July 1936)

Image at top from House & Garden, July, 1948


  1. Anonymous8:16 AM

    I've not seen an iron and glass table like that in decades. What a knockout!

  2. You are hilarious! I love these old photographs.
    Teresa (Splendid Sass)

  3. I love seeing the homeowner - if even as a picture at the beginning. I think a house is so much a part of you and when I see something I like, my curiosity isn't satisfied until I can see WHO actually lives there! BTW, you are making me want to start old magazine collecting!

  4. Great post. Over the 25 years that I've worked with shelter magazines, I've seen the pendulum swing both ways. I had a thought reading your post this morning. Maybe that was the reality TV of it's day, and now we get so much of that everywhere else?

  5. Newell, I hadn't thought of that, but I bet you're on to something. There are so many outlets today that give people exposure, whereas back then, it was mainly magazines and newspapers. Interesting thought.

  6. Jennifer, what an interesting topic-I think it is fine to see owners in rooms as long as they have shoes on! enough with the bare feet.Even better when the designer tucks in somewhere-acknowledging a common effort. These pictures are wonderful-dusting in a little black dress and pearls, the couple by the buffet look very stiff-as in cardboard. They are all indulging in the fantasy we have about interiors and how they reflect a lifestyle-that's why we will always love a room!

  7. I always dress for lunch like that - all my scraves have soup stains! Joking apart, what wonderful photos. Are they from your own collection of magazines or can you find them online? I once had a collection of old Ideal Home and Homes & Gardens magazines from the 1950s (I collected them as a school girl!) but when we moved my father made me throw them all away - I should love to find some of those again. One I particularly recall showed the home of actress Adrienne Allen, who was married to the American actor Raymond Massey. The magazine even gave the address: No 2, The Grove (somewhere in London, I think.) I particularly remember the bedroom of daughter, Anna Massey, which was twin-bedded with delightful floral bed covers in pink and pale blue, and a tiny little TV room (yes, rooms especially for the TV) which had been converted from the 'coal hole.' I longed for a bedroom like that for years!
    Margaret P

  8. People watching, even in magazines is fun. I want to smile or see something I like and yes, sometimes laugh at them (in a good way). These vintage pics are great. The lady having lunch in the country (and what in heavens name IS she having?) looks troubled; I want my people happy!

  9. I do enjoy seeing the residents, however, though not in staid portraits. My ideal images are the people-at-home photographs Horst used to snap for Vogue's interior-design features back in the 1960s (see "Vogue's Book of Gardens, Houses, People"). Today the text of those articles seems a bit overwrought but the photographs are heavenly. With apologies to Slim Aarons, they depict beautiful people living beautifully.

  10. Jennifer I do love seeing the homeowner in at least one of the shots. It just adds to the personality of the surroundings!

    A New Giveaway is on my site!

    Art by Karena

  11. Housework in a little black dress and a strand of pearls...

    Actually, I can never remember my mother not be dressed and made up, to at least some degree, when I was a child. I don't know where these women found the time, but they always appeared chic and unruffled. I guess the Mad Men era was a reality...of sorts.

  12. I like the photos where the camera seems to catch the occupants in normal activity, like the photos you've posted. What I don't like are "posed" photos where the occupant is looking directly into the camera lens, fully aware that they are getting their picture taken.

  13. J,

    One day when your apartment is photographed, you should definitely be in the shots, lighting candles are posing like Annette in the Horst book.

  14. I know that you're not going to admit this, but that first photo was taken that night we were to dinner together with Will - and a lovely photo 'tis. I wondered when you were going to publish it.

    As to homeowners in photographs - they always look so laughably self-congratulatory to me. I remember a 1980s House and Garden shot where one homeowner was artistically photographed with about nine Cartier watches on the wrist nearest the lens.

    So, I guess the answer is no I don't want to see 'em - just give me the rooms.

  15. roll your own. that's hysterical!!!!

  16. Magnaverde12:39 PM

    Newell's point is a good one: these old shots were the reality TV of their day. But these days, we have real reality TV, so maybe it's time for shelter magazines to get rid of the distracting people in their photos & go back to empty rooms again. Change is good, right?

    Here's the thing: the sophisticated-looking people in the shots above were models, hired to reflect the overall look of a shoot, and the occasional movie star who posed in the mirrored glamour of her William Haines living room knew how to play to the camera, so that the finished photo was all of a piece. But these days, we get pictures of ordinary-looking homeowners in T-shirts & bare feet, or shots of kids old enough to know bettter, standing on antique beds & settees and those things do nothing to improve the presentation of a handsome room. It's all schtick and it doesn't fool anybody.

    When a magazine came to shoot my place a few years ago, they explained that one photo with me in it was part of the deal: their part, that is, not mine. I'm sure the styling team didn't like it any more than I did, but none of us had a choice in the matter. Oh, well. If I had been young & hunky, with great hair, I probably would have been featured--grinning, stubbly, in cool jeans, and, of course, barefoot--in the lead photo, and by now I'd probably be famous, with my own TV show, but as fate would have it, by the time my place finally got published in a national magazine, I was gray, middle aged & twenty pounds overweight--maybe more--so that particular shot got relegated to a small photo on a secondary page, with me looking down & away from the camera & with my boring khakis & no-style Brooks Brothers buttondown shirt hidden by an Art Deco table. The finished picture would have been even better with just the table, since I added nothing to the shot. Like I said: oh, well. But what do they do when the owner of a good-looking house--or its designer--turns out to be downright ugly? Or grossly overweight? Then what? Think back: when's the last time you saw someone who looks like Elsa Maxwell featured in a glossy magazine? Getting rid of people in the photos altogether would eliminate that whole issue.

    And if editors insist on having people in the rooms they feature--as evidence of "real life", even though everybody knows it's all staged anyway--I think they should go back to using paid models. After all, if magazines can borrow antique rugs for the day & replace homeowners' middle-brow artwork with important paintings borrowed from major galleries all for the sake of a cover-worthy photo, why shouldn't they follow through & hire charismatic models the way they used to, to stand-in for real-but-unremarkable homeowners? All I know is the next time a magazine comes to my place--if there is a next time--I'm going to ask for either Dean Cain or Matt Damon to play me in the photos. They both look really good in horn-rim glasses--that is, they look the way I used to look, twenty years ago.

  17. Blue, I remember that dinner far differently than you; I don't believe that I was wearing my hostess gown and pearls that evening!

  18. Magnaverde- Interesting point, especially as you witnessed it from the other side. I'm not opposed to the model idea, although I'm afraid that today's staged photos might not look quite as glamorous as those from the 1930s and 40s. I don't like to see children jumping on beds in photos. I don't know why but it kind of drives me crazy.

  19. This is a great post...I love it!

  20. I agree! If my house was being photographed, I would secretly love to be photographed with it, sporting a FAB outfit, looking completely cute and stylish in the photo. Of course, heaven forbid that anyone should drop by my house on those days when I have crazy bedhead and a looney household filled with kids and pets running amuck.... my whole image would be completely blown! ha. Thanks for the great post!