Film and Media, Publicity

A Still feature


David S. Shields’s Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography chronicles the still camera work generated by the American silent film industry—and in the process, uncovers the intersection of publicity and aesthetics that shaped our placement of cinematic culture. Fittingly, it’s profiled over at the Turner Classic Movies site, which touches on the relevance of Shields’s endeavor:

Recent movies like The Artist and Hugo (both 2011) have recreated the wonder and magic of silent film for modern audiences, many of whom might never have experienced a movie without sound. While the American silent movie was one of the most significant popular art forms of the modern age, it is also one that is largely lost to us, as more than 80 percent of silent films have disappeared. We now know about many of these cinematic masterpieces only from collections of still portraits and production photographs that were originally created for publicity and reference. Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography (The University of Chicago Press), by David S. Shields, is the first history of still camera work generated by the American silent motion picture industry. Exploring the work of over 60 camera artists, Still recovers the stories of the photographers who descended on early Hollywood and the stars and starlets who sat for them, between 1908 and 1928. Focusing on the most culturally influential types of photographs—the performer portrait and the scene still—Shields follows photographers such as Albert Witzel and W. F. Seely as they devised the poses that newspapers and magazines would bring to Americans, who mimicked the sultry stares and dangerous glances of silent stars. He uncovers scene shots of unprecedented splendor—over 150 of them—and details how still photographs changed the film industry.

Read more about Still here.