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Vandamm in Color and Colour


Publicity photograph of Katharine Cornell during a revival of Romeo and Juliet. Image ID: 5055043

Florence Vandamm was one of the greats of black and white photography, capable of modulating infinite gradations of greys. The Vandamm Theatrical Photograph Collection, and the prints elsewhere in the research divisions, support that judgment. But that doesn't mean that she and the studio didn't shoot in color. Not so. She studied and practiced color photography.

One of the studio logs that were part of the acquisition lists color shoots of individuals and Broadway shows between 1936 and 1939. That log lists most of the extant color images – a window card for the Lunts' Amphytrion '38 showing Fontanne in a scarlet Valentina costume and publicity material for Rodgers & Hart's I Married an Angel, starring Vera Zorina. All are paper prints and might show the printers' color choices. The blog's key image, showing Katharine Cornell as Juliet in her 1936 revival, is an amazing find. It was scanned from a rare extant glass slide, or rather a transparency between two glass plates. The colors seem to be accurate, as compared to the original designs by Jo Mielziner for her original 1934 production *T-VIM 1993-002). The colors and the differentiation between the tones of the gown and the arras are beautiful and worthy of her way with greys. We are very grateful to the staff of the Digitization unit for finding a way to scan the transparency and look forward to seeing more such images in the Digital Collection.

The Vandamm exhibition has been de-installed, but research continues. We now know that she learned photography as a student at The Regent Street Polytechnic between 1906 and 1908. The school is now part of the University of Winchester and I am very grateful for the University's Archivists for helping me discover a curriculum for that period. It shows that she studied two forms of color (or colour) photography , starting with the then-standard methods of treating the print: "Colouring and finishing miniatures, photographs and enlargements in water colours and colouring bromide enlargements on canvas in oil colour or pastel… painting, tinting and semi-tinting…" The course description ends "Importance of the attainment of harmony in all colour work." The Regents Street Polytechnic also provided training in color from filters and color on plates, culminating in what was called "The magnificent achievement of the [Lumieres'] autochrome regards the accuracy and beautify of the results." There is an extraordinary portrait of actress Faith Celli with her beagle in an October 1922 issue of The Tattler that shows how well she learned her lessons.


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