George Hurrell talks about meeting Edward Steichen

George Hurrell with his lights, circa 1939

When I moved from Laguna Beach to open my first Los Angeles studio, I rented a live-work space at the newly built Granada Building at 672 La Fayette Park Place, studio 9.  It was a lively place, where many other people in the arts lived and worked.  Between the society referrals I got from my pal Florence Lowe Barnes (aka: Pancho Barnes) I continued to find just enough business to keep the wolf from the door.

Courtyard of Granada Building

 During this time period the great photographer Edward Steichen came to Los Angeles on his first visit.  I had been doing some work for Leon Gordon, the painter, who kindly arranged a meeting.  Steichen came to my studio with some undeveloped films which turned out to be some commercial work he was doing for a manufacturer of cigarette lighters.  I developed the films and made the prints for him.  By the way, one of these photographs is numbered among his famous still lifes.  I later learned that Steichen got $500 for each of three negatives that were eventually approved by the advertising agency.

Meeting Steichen at that time was a momentous occasion for me and his admiring some of my prints was indeed a kindness.  When I apologized for the size of my darkroom at studio 9 (it had been a small bathroom) he made two remarks that became the standard by which I worked from then on.  He said, “Some of the best films I ever made I developed under a rug.”  The other was, “Never let your subject know when you are baffled.  Shoot the film anyway.  Make your change on the next shot, and remain the master of the situation at all cost.”

 That meeting did much to help my confidence, and set the tone for what was ahead for me as as a photographer at MGM Studios, working with the most famous and powerful stars in Hollywood.