In this 2004 photograph by Ronen Lalena, the dramatic, selective lighting on Efrat Gosh's sharply etched, melancholy, highly expressive face works like a link to the past, like a memory of elegance, like cinema. This is how studios photographed the female stars of the 1930s and 1940s - stylized glamour in hues of gray and silver, in close-ups that showed the granularity of the makeup, the extrusions of the black mascara, the rigidity of the eyelids, the sloping contours of the highlighted lips. This stylized photograph of Gosh captures her desire to express herself, her impulse to project emotion, strength, weakness, drama, power.
Ronen Lalena loves music, knows music and has been photographing musicians in Tel Aviv since the beginning of the 1990s. He does not have an archive and does not keep photographs. He shoots musicians at the right time, at a formative moment, and lets go. This photograph shows Gosh at an early stage of her career, and despite its association with old Hollywood, it also captures her freshness: a young woman with an asymmetrical hairdo, modish, self-aware.
The movie studios' still photographers captured stars on film as part of the public-relations machine, but amid this commercial art, breathtaking nuances developed. Ernest Bachrach's photographs of Joan Crawford are a model of internal contradictions and plays of light and shade. The caressing photographs taken of Greta Garbo by the most gifted of the portrait photographers, Clarence Sinclair Bull, made her an icon. (Garbo was never photographed other than in character for a role. In the first session between them in the studio, after two hours in which she made every effort to please him, she apologized: "I'll do better next time, Mr. Bull." ) And there was also George Hurrell, of course, who liked to place a neoclassic torso behind his stars, its sculpted nudity resonating in back of the clothed woman as a fairly obvious hint. His portraits of Gene Tierney, perhaps the most beautiful and saddest woman who ever worked in Hollywood, are masterworks of fetishist treatment springing from wonder and admiration.
You have to have the right kind of face to carry a photograph of this kind. Ronen Lalena recognizes that the 20-year-old Gosh has it. She also knows she has it, and she knows what to do with it. The classic photographic portraits magnified the sharpness of the lines, their cleanness, their precision. They immortalized the beauty of Veronica Lake, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, but also gave them an adult look, in part because the concepts of youth, femininity and maturity were very different in that period. They bespoke not infantile eternal youthfulness but enduring adulthood.
Gosh is cooperative in this photograph, lowering her gaze and pouting her lips. The pout is mannered, but also defines her persona. Gosh will be a star. Lalena sees that. He immortalizes her slightly self-indulgent melodrama, but also understands her and believes her. Though he still does not say how truly marvelous she is on stage.
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