Outerbridge, Paul

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1896-08-15
Death 1958-10-17
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

American photographer Paul Outerbridge (1896-1958) first achieved success in the 1920s by applying an innovative modernist aesthetic to advertising photography. During the 1930s he perfected his technique with the complex tri-color carbro process, earning his reputation as a pioneer in color photography. He also worked as a freelance writer and photographer contributing articles to photographic and travel magazines. His book, Photographing in color, was published by Random House in 1940.

From the description of Paul Outerbridge papers, 1915-1979 (bulk 1922-1958). (Getty Research Institute). WorldCat record id: 146001796

Biographical/Historical Note

American photographer Paul Outerbridge (1896-1958) was born in New York City. He studied anatomy and aesthetics at the Art Students’ League of New York from 1915 to 1917 while working as a theatrical designer and illustrator, among other jobs. In 1917 he joined the Canadian Royal Flying Corps. Discharged after a minor crash, Outerbridge enlisted in the United States Army and gained his first photographic experience documenting materials and operations for the army at a lumber camp in Oregon. In 1921 he enrolled at the Clarence H. White School of Photography, New York, where he studied with White and Max Weber. Although he did not complete the program at the White School, Outerbridge demonstrated such proficiency that he was soon invited to teach there. His first published photograph appeared in Vogue in 1922, the same year he became acquainted with Alfred Stieglitz and studied sculpture with Alexander Archipenko.

Through meticulous composition and manipulation of light, Outerbridge transformed everyday objects into formal abstractions of mass and line, light and shadow. His innovative photographs were widely praised and published in magazines such as Vanity fair, Harper’s bazaar, and Vogue . As a freelance advertising photographer, he reinterpreted the ‘product shot’ in his own visual language, as seen in the crisp precision and Cubist aesthetic of his Ide collar advertisement, first published in the July 1922 issue of Vanity fair (see series VI). Marcel Duchamp was reportedly so impressed with the image that he tore it from a magazine and tacked it to his studio wall. This landmark of early modernism in commercial photography led to more commissions, and Outerbridge had his first solo exhibition at the Art Center, New York, in 1924.

Outerbridge interrupted his New York success by moving to Paris in 1925, then to Berlin three years later where he became briefly involved in filmmaking. In Paris he met Edward Steichen, with whom he developed a friendly rivalry while they both worked for the French edition of Vogue . Man Ray was a frequent companion and entries in Outerbridge’s pocket diaries from the period mention encounters with numerous other artists, including Duchamp, Berenice Abbott, Kiki de Montparnasse, and Constantin Brancusi (see series II).

Shortly after his return to the United States in 1930, Outerbridge moved to Monsey, New York. There he concentrated on his pioneering work in color photography, eventually perfecting his technique with the complex tri-color carbro process. As described in U.S. camera, “Technically his carbros are gems. Their color range, their flesh tones, their unbelievable fidelity make them the envy of all who see them” (no. 2, 1939, p. 80). The primary subject of his technical virtuosity was the female nude, often exoticized or fetishized with props, sometimes with menacing overtones. The full-color realism of the nudes shocked some viewers and resulted in scandal, to which Outerbridge responded, “What this country needs is more and better nudes” (Outerbridge, “The Nude,” undated typescript, series III). Outerbridge’s book, Photographing in color, was published by Random House in 1940.

In 1943 Outerbridge moved from New York to California hoping to transition from photography to motion pictures. He never found work in the film industry, however, and instead earned an irregular livelihood as a portrait photographer and freelance writer, contributing articles and illustrations to photographic and travel magazines. From 1954 until his death he wrote the monthly column “About Color” for U.S. camera . Paul Outerbridge died October 17, 1958, in Laguna Beach, California.

From the guide to the Paul Outerbridge papers, 1915-1979, 1922-1958, (Getty Research Institute)

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Subjects:

  • Photographers--Correspondence
  • Nudes--1930-1940
  • Photography
  • Portraits
  • Painters
  • Advertising photography
  • Commercial art--United States
  • Photography, Artistic
  • Beaches--1930-1940
  • Color photography
  • African Americans--Women--1930-1940
  • Commercial art

Occupations:

  • Photographers

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)
  • Paris (France)—Intellectual life—20th century (as recorded)
  • New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • New York (N.Y.)—Intellectual life—20th century (as recorded)
  • Paris (France) (as recorded)