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September 18, 2022

Breathtaking Black and White Portraits of Greta Garbo Taken by Arnold Genthe in 1925

Arnold Genthe (1869-1942) was a German photographer and his series of photographs would be the first serious study of Greta Garbo as an artist. In July of 1925, Garbo and Stiller Victor Sjöström were waiting in New York to get instructions by MGM. Than one evening they had a meeting with a new friend, photographer Arnold Genthe. Genthe immediately wanted to make pictures of her. The pictures were taken in the hot summer of 1925, in New York.

After he saw Greta, Genthe immediately wanted to make pictures of her. But Greta wasn’t prepared and pleaded: “Look at the dress I have on and my hair – oh no, not now!” Genthe wasn’t interested in pictures of her clothes or hair. He wanted a portrait of her soul and stated: “You are here and I am here and my camera is ready.” She finally consented and results were breathtaking. Each pose reveals a new facet of her persona: sensual, dramatic, vulnerable, intensely female, always distinctive.

By August 1925, director, and friend of Stiller delivered the Genthe pictures to Mayer. It is said that at first, Mayer didn’t recognize the woman in the pictures as the actress he had signed in Berlin. A portrait from this sitting was published in Vanity Fair in November 1925.

One evening in early July 1925, Stiller and Greta were had dinner with photographer Arnold Genthe. When Genthe arrived at the Comodore and upset Stiller was in the lobby waiting for him. The director told Genthe: “Miss Garbo has a terrible headache and won’t be able to come tonight!” Genthe phoned Greta’s room to express his regrets. “Is Moje really upset?” she asked. Genthe told her he was. At that she laughed – really laughed, like a child pleased at having achieved her purpose.

“Oh, but how splendid!” she spoke between laughs. “Did he really believe I wouldn’t go? Of course I’m coming. All I wanted was that he should believe I wouldn’t.” Garbo learned from Genthe that acting was not limited to the stage or set and that an inspired photographer’s work could be as significant as any role.

Here Genthe was in the vanguard, one of the early photographers who understood the potential of artistic expressiveness in portraiture. Genthe’s photographs lack Hollywood’s glossy polish; instead, they show raw emotion, whether Garbo looks seriously into the camera or Genthe concentrates on the elegant silhouette of her neck.


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