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28th August 2018

A fashion and portrait photographer hailing from our home city of London, John French is known as the pioneer of a new form of fashion photography that made fashion shots suitable for printing in newspapers. By reflecting natural light and using low contrast, photographs became much better than ever before when reproduced in newsprint thanks to John French.

Originally a commercial artist and then a photographic director for an advertising studio, French’s career was put on hold during World War II, when he served as an officer in the Grenadier Guards. It was only after the war when French’s career in fashion and portrait photography took off. He set up his own photographic studio in 1948 and started working with the Fleet Street based newspaper, the Daily Express, on fashion shoots.

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Known for taking great care over the composition of each photograph, French worked tirelessly to ensure his subjects found just the right pose. It was often his assistants who actually triggered the shutter on the camera after this painstaking process. Many of French’s assistants also went on to become acclaimed photographers in their own right, including David Bailey and Terence Donovan.

The John French photograph we feature in The Athenaeum is called Pair of long, spotted voile gloves, modelled by Barbara Goalen, 1950. The focal point is most definitely the decadent pair of black and white gloves. Behind, a model wearing a wide-brimmed black hat is arching her eyebrow and looking directly at the camera.

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The model herself, Barbara Goalen, was named by some as ‘the most photographed woman in Britain’ and many considered her to be the first British supermodel. She modelled for the likes of Dior and Balenciaga and regularly appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. John French’s image of her wearing the voile gloves appeared in the Daily Express newspaper on 13 July 1950.

Capturing the spirit, glamour and fashion credentials of London in the 1950s, this John French photograph is all about soaking up a feeling of the city in another era.

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