The Chinese-American star, Anna May Wong, regularly appeared in films in roles that were non-Asian but always racialized. I am currently obsessed with how often imagery linked her with blackness, as in this Paramount Studio photograph by Eugene Robert Richee:
I have been unable to identify the photographer of the following portrait of Anna May Wong. It was likely taken in 1934 when Wong was starring in a film tltled Chu Chin Chow, aka Ali Baba Nights.
If anyone knows, please let me know using the comment field or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The heroine of the introduction to my book Afrochic: Anna May Wong.
I didn’t have the chance to discuss this photograph of Anna May Wong wearing a hat referencing the one worn by Neferetiti in her famous portrait bust in my recent talk about Egyptomania and fashion — and I don’t even know why Wong was photographed wearing it — but it’s such a great image so I couldn’t resist acknowledging it in some public manner.
My CAA talk went very well according to the feedback that I received. I focused on how shadows assumed a new expressive role as a racial metaphor in modernist photography. I previously shared some of the images that I was considering. Here are some of the ones that were included in my presentation:
Kiki by Man Ray, 1926
Josephine Baker by Huene, 1927
Garbo by Clarence Sinclair Bull, 1931
The Beginning of the World by Brancusi, 1924
A made particular note of the fact that shadows ultimately acquired their own autonomy in images like this:
It’s CAA time and I am participating in a panel called “Photography and Race.” My talk is about race and modernism in interwar photography. One key phenomenon that I have noted is that lighting and shadow take on a metaphoric role beyond their descriptive function that gives visual expression to the period’s racial imagination in new ways. Older notions of race as biology and blackness and whiteness as material properties of the body are supplanted with more elusive codes that reside in the darkness and the light. That is not to say that move traditional means of visualizing race entirely disappear but the burden of representation is removed from the body in subtle but significant ways that allow for the articulation of changing racial paradigms. The preponderance of these shadows that limn blackness makes it difficult to select which images to show in my fifteen minutes. What a dilemma! Here are some of my current objects of fascination:
Carole Lombard by Otto Dyar, 1931
Anna May Wong by Hurrell, 1938
Katherine Hepburn by Ernest Bachrach, 1935
Model Helen Lyons Wearing a Dress and Matching Cape by Boue Soeurs, in Vogue, April 1922 by Baron de Meyer
Elsa Schiaparelli by Man Ray, 1930s
Josephine Baker by Huene, 1927
Nelly van Doesburg by Man Ray, 1925
Lillian Gish by Doris Ulmann, 1930
Delores del Rio by Ernest Bachrach, 1932
This is a portrait of the actress Anna May Wong in tuxedo drag taken by Carl Van Vecthen in 1932. This image is the cornerstone of the introduction to Afrochic, the magnum opus that I hope to complete soon. I argue that this type of photographic portrait and its attendant racial dynamics is emblematic of the ways that moderns constructed their identity between the Two Worlds Wars. Intrigued…stay tuned!
Since I will never be able to include all the images that I would like into the final manuscript, I will share some of my favorites here as I work towards the completion of the manuscript.