Horst, 'the master of dramatic lighting'. and famous for his work in the field of fashion it was the image 'Minbocher Corset' that has become his motif. Indeed he chose the image for the cover of his autobiography 'Horst, His Work and his World'. The image has been labeled as conveying modesty, charm. Eros, humility, provocation and elegance.
There is an element of voyeurism as we look on the woman undressing. The lace ties tantalisingly invite us to help further, the arms raised awaiting our help - a firmly male perspective of course. For a woman the corset brings the hour glass so desired of the time and beautifully outlined here. On the left of the subject the shadow of the corset is contrasted by the light on the background. This is reversed on the right side, the light falls on the corset to contrast with the background. The lines of the hour glass are clearly defined. The light also illuminates the nape and back and shoulders, the parts of the female form that are least seen - hidden by the hair and dresses or blouses. The shadow falling from the structure leads our eye to the straps which lead us back to the subject. Nothing else distracts or subtracts from the image. The darker background supports the light on the subject.
A lot of post processing appears to have been done. On the model's left elbow (as we look) you can see a halo effect. Evidence of those skills of the master, dodging and burning in the darkroom.
So great inspiration for lighting, but is not the female as an object of beauty and desire that I seek. This inspiration is found elsewhere in Horst's work.
In the image above, again a fashion shoot, this time for a Mainbocher dress, the use of what I would call 'none lighting' gives the woman power. There she stands alone in the dark against a foreboding sky and she says I have no fear, try me, I am defiant, I am my own woman. The dress that the shoot is promoting has been clipped from the shoulder it increasingly fades. Where there is light shadow detail is minimal whilst there is the sufficient definition in the arms and the lines cast by the shadows to say I am a woman and my clothing is 'haute coutre'. The wearing of the hat signifies strength drawn from its masculine symbolism.
In this 1948 image from Vogue, the very elegant and sophisticated Gibson Girls (feminine personification of the time defined by the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson) play with a miniature male begging for mercy - about to be prodded by a hairpin and is so insignificant that a 'spy' glass is required to even notice him. He himself looks an elegant fellow. Their is no suggestion of class superiority. This is a man of class being 'toyed' with by women of class. The ladies expressions are a mix of amusement and aloofness. The plain white table cloth ensures nothing distracts from the darkly dressed male. So whilst miniature he contrasts well. The light is coming from the right illuminating the ladies faces (and evidenced by the magnifying glass's reflection on its holders chest). The dark hair of the Gibson girls, whilst purely coincidental, provides a strong contrast to the background and causes them to become the focus of our attention. Nothing distracts our eye or leads us way.
In the following image of the 'First Lady Nixon' the setting is immediately one of 'state'. Thus the subject is by association a 'stateswoman'. Her form of dress, hear and accessories help with that definition. The body language and expression say I am important. The use of foreground items (the pen is mightier than the sword) including a sophisticated quill provide supporting evidence of the importance of the subject. The subjects clothing palette aligns with the room. They are one. The ambient lighting helps to soften the room whilst in contrast, Strong lighting throws a strong shadow and suggest a person of strong character.
Katherine Hepburn's hand gesture, in the following image, suggests her self-confidence in accepting or rejecting ideas/opinions/requests. The light cast firmly on the face washes out signs of age and softens her (a sensitive consideration). Authority is drawn from the pose, dark clothing and strong shadows. Whilst Hepburn's head occupies the top right hand third of the image her extended arm allows her to dominate the space. Her lower body occupies the lower two thirds whilst her head is given the freedom of the upper third. For me, that triangle of chair is both distracting and disconcerting is this really where Horst wants to draw our eye?
It is the fur coat that gets all the attention in the following purely fashion shoot . The model is almost incidental. She needs to have all the attributes of a model yet she is almost not there herself. The light is cast on to the lower part of the coat (and on to the dress). Thus we look at the coat we notice the texture and lines, we notice its matching with the dress (another haute coutre moment). The reflected marble floor, not too much, just enough to say ostentation. The lines created along the left hand side cause our eye to look up and down (yes vertically) whilst the horizontal line says look upwards from the edge of the coat.
The following image perfectly captures its title 'Fur, Pearls & Diamonds.
The use of black clothing and the black hat (to display diamonds) along with a light background ensures that our eye looks at what the image is about. Its that simple. Front lighting is used to light the diamond on the hat, the diamonds on the ring on the hand, the pearls and of course the fur. At the same time the hat casts a shadow over the models face, allowing her beauty to come through but not her identity. It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul and this explains the hat's use for camouflage. It is perhaps the hat that is the stroke of genius here and not perhaps the lighting.
Here's a slide show of other Horst P Horst images that show the same themes of dark and light to represent strong female character/istics (and in almost everyone a hat!).