Wandering about, having a drink, or just staring at the wide open, exposed concrete space of the National Theatre foyer is always a pleasure; except during short performance intervals, it is usually very quite – a calming break from the roaring, turbulent, metropolitan pace, it never fails to relax me. This minimal, colourless landscape became the perfect backdrop for Cornel Lucas’ black & white portraits, the beauty of his famous sitters captured forever in time.
Started working at fifteen in a film-processing laboratory, studied photography at the Regent Street Polytechnic, worked at the RAF School of Photography at Farnborough during the war – his life was intertwined with photography. After the war, Lucas went on to work at Denham Studios, in 1945. He made such an impression that the Rank Organisation (the powerful British entertainment conglomerate that controlled Denham Studios) created a specially equipped studio at Pinewood, for Lucas to photograph the major stars they had under contract. Or, in his words, he was handed ”the key to the door”. Much later, in 1998, his work was recognised with a BAFTA Award for Outstanding Contribution to British cinema, the first, and so far, only photographer to receive this honour.
Lucas was shot to fame after a successful photo session with a great sitter: Marlene Dietrich. When the diva arrived at the studio “She explained that she knew exactly where to sit, how to be lit and that her best pose was looking straight at the camera,” said Lucas. “She was directing me!”
The end result, (1948):
At the opposite end of accidental, Dietrich’s portrait was the result of some of the most meticulous post-production work in a pre-photoshop era:
”… the publishing director asked me to show to her rough proofs the next day… which I did… I went to her dressing room and showed her the rough proofs… and she looked at them and leaned down beside her to her handbag and took out the largest magnifying glass and looked at them. With the other hand, she got black eyebrow pencil from her bag and she ticked and marked the print as she thought she would like it to be retouched… and away it went… and the next day I took them to her and she looked at them again with the magnifying glass and was quite charming and leaned over and shook my hand and said: ”Join the Club Mr Lucas”… Well I didn’t know what she meant by joining the club but obviously it meant that I was on the threshold of doing something different…”
Transcript from a film by Nigel Arthur on Cornel Lucas official website.
The Art of Cornel Lucas
(Exhibition closed on 29 March 2014)
Cornel Lucas (1920 – 2012)
Images by Konstantinos Implikian
London, 22-25 March 2014