Garbo – The Art of Visual Contact

4 Nov


When I searched for Garbo photos the other night, I was once again sucked into a vortex of trying to find the one photo that defined this divinely beautiful woman. And once again, I was reminded after two hours of stunning image after stunning image – that the camera loved this woman like no other before or since.

Garbo was photogenic like no other human had ever been before her. Partly this was because the still photography of her day was becoming more and more advanced, able to capture images with such clarity and detail than ever before in human history. But even candid images of Garbo from early in her career would indicate a bigger explanation: The woman was naturally photogenic, even in the worst light, captured by the cheapest photographic equipment. Because when your model is a goddess, you can be the worst photographer in the world and it won’t matter.

I chose the image of Garbo above to accompany this meandering stream of consciousness on her beauty because she is in her silent movie phase here – where literally every emotion must be conveyed visually. Silent movies were the world’s introduction to Garbo. She was an international phenomenon since her earliest silent movies for MGM. They also happen to have produced the greatest still images of the star – when black and white visual contact was first made with the larger world – then she completely dominated for the next decade.

Garbo’s sound movies arguably are the reason we remember her today. She conquered sound the way she had light: her low-contralto matched perfectly with her visual effects. I daresay the true test of Garbo’s beauty is time itself. Whether silent or early sound, her movies are but time capsules through which Garbo’s eternal beauty still shines as bright as the day it was captured in silver. The men and women behind the camera in those early days obviously knew what they were doing recording this beautiful creature. But I doubt they realized how long after they were dead and gone – someone in the early years of the 21st century would see these images and marvel at how the woman they worked hard to immortalize on film – would be as popular today as in those early years of the 20th century in which they lived.

Greta Garbo became famous without uttering a word. Then, she became more famous when we heard her voice for the first time. But it is my believe that she was the most beautiful when she simply stared directly in the camera at us. That’s when Garbo is the most entrancing and intoxicating, as she beckons us to join her at her table and have a martini – for old time’s sake.


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