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John Rawlings

(United States of America 1912 – 1970)

Fashion study
Media category
Materials used
gelatin silver photograph, vintage

24.5 x 18.8 cm image; 35.5 x 27.9 cm board

Signature & date
Signed l.r. board, pencil "Rawlings". Dated verso, pencil "1937 Sept".
Gift of Edron Pty Ltd - 1996 through the auspices of Alistair McAlpine
Accession number
© Estate of John Rawlings
Not on display
Further information

Like many fashion photographers, John Rawlings received his training in the ‘Vogue’ studios, where he was schooled in the style of its star photographers – George Von Hoyningen-Huene, Horst P Horst and Cecil Beaton. Born in Ohio, Rawlings started out as a window dresser in Manhattan in the early 1930s. He used a 35mm camera to document his displays, and also took candid shots of well-dressed socialites, which brought him to the attention of ‘Vogue’s’ publisher, Condé Nast. Rawlings joined ‘Vogue’s’ New York studio in 1936, before being dispatched to London to open and direct the first photographic studio for British ‘Vogue’ in 1937. Rawlings continued to work for Vogue throughout the war, responding to the changes in fashion and lifestyle wrought by rationing and austerity with a new style of photography that was felt to be distinctly American – fresh, uncluttered and dynamic.

The dramatic lighting, mannered pose, studio location and fine detailing of rich textures in Rawling’s ‘Fashion study’ reveal the lingering influence of his apprenticeship with the great fashion photographers of the 1930s. The model is the Japanese–American dancer, Sono Osato, who danced with the Ballet Russe in Monte Carlo in the 1930s and in Broadway musicals in the 1940s. Osato models a ruched velvet evening dress, the heavy contours of which contrast with the delicacy of the sequinned veil she draws over her head. Her pose suggests the graceful development of a dance step, caught mid-action, and so she appears sinuously poised between dance and display.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

Bibliography (2)

Judy Annear, Discipline and Beauty - women, fashion, photography, Sydney, 1997.

Nicola Teffer, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Fashion and celebrity', pg.169-187, Sydney, 2007, 168 (illus.), 178 (illus.).

Exhibition history (1)

Discipline and Beauty, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Jun 1997–17 Aug 1997