Model in Dior Suit Walking Poodles in Paris ca. 1940

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Model in Dior Suit Walking Poodles in Paris, ca. 1940; Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler; © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

Model in Dior Suit Walking Poodles in Paris illustrates the formal precision and irreverent sense of humor for which photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe was known. Positioned mid-stride on a rain-soaked plaza, a model visually echoes the elongated, triangular form of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Even the poodles’ positions and the angles of their leashes mimic the tower’s iconic structure. The single passerby adds a candid element to the carefully contrived scene. In this and thousands of other photographs, Dahl-Wolfe maintains a focus on the exquisite fashions, but they appear to be part of a life, rather than existing in a vacuum.

As staff photographer at Harper’s Bazaar from 1936 to 1958, Dahl-Wolfe effectively freed fashion photography from the studio settings and mannequin-like poses that had long constrained it. Seeking a more natural look and narrative quality, she posed her models outdoors and on location. Dahl-Wolfe, a perfectionist, could be difficult on such shoots. Her friend, model Mary Jane Russell, once described working with her as “[w]icked, challenging, exasperating, and heavenly.”