Walter Blum – Doubles (and a Treble)

Walter Blum (1890 – 1964) suffers during online searches since he has a famous American jockey-namesake, but his own career is equally interesting. He fled Nazi Germany in the ’30s (so I’m presuming he was Jewish), hiding in the Netherlands during the war, and subsequently establishing himself as a freelance photographer (particularly of fashion) in a studio in Amsterdam. These images all come from the colossal Spaarnestad Photo Archive, derived from the De Spaarnestad publishing company that issued a number of illustrated magazines in the Netherlands (starting in 1906) – particularly women’s titles that Walter supplied images for.

There are a couple of images of girls photographed by Walter that get reposted regularly, in particular for their almost “surreal” framing in front of painted scenery, like these: but as today’s are intrinsically more interesting, I’ll get to the others another time.

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At first glance, the two images above seem to be simple colour/monochrome variations: but if you look more closely you can see that in fact they’re two different shots – the girl’s head is more tilted in the first one, and her legs are closer together in the second. Even more noticeable, however, is that even before Photoshop the dog’s lead/leash has all but vanished from the top one.

Now this isn’t exactly an earth-shattering discovery, but it does show how even a simple shot like this was taken from different angles and at different times, and more than one version printed to compare the results.

The charm of these images is instant: Walter used a number of different back-drops/sets – all the ones  I’m posting today are variations on a modernist city-scape, but not all are the same. In other images he used terrace railings looking high over the countryside, or even a backyard. The girls always have a prop, or props –  here the toy pull-along dog – and they tend to pose with a slightly faux-adult coquettish air. The point of the shot is of course the dress (and accessories): and they are usually beautiful, hand-made creations that look like they could hang in a Costume Museum representing the best of ’50s/’60s girls’ fashion in the Netherlands.

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The next two above are clearly not the same shot, but again you have the choice of colour or black and white. I really don’t know if the magazines Walter was providing images for used colour and monochrome, or just one. His archive isn’t predominantly one or the other: and very probably they changed as technology advanced – either way, his reasons for providing a choice remain inscrutable…

The polka-dot dress and the open sandals are cute – and I’ll repeat what I always say with similar images: the girls don’t have on what we’d think of as mini-skirts because the photographers/clients were perverts – this is how little girls dressed in that period. The perverts are people who think that young girls’ bodies are intrinsically arousing=sinful, and so make them cover up. She has a rather strange “Mary, Mary quite contrary” cut-flower arm-basket –  the sort you associate with Marie Antoinette pretending to be a shepherdess – and the inclined-knee pose that girls of all ages seem to adopt when the photographer asks them to look appealing. And then Walter going a bit over the top with a rather unnecessary umbrella.

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These three images above make up the only treble: and you can see the model (clearly the same girl in all today’s shots – was she just a model, or a relative?  – he would have been too old for her to be his daughter, I’d have thought) wearing the same shoes as in the first two images at the top of the post. A pretty, flared gingham sleeveless dress, with a belt accent, a cute little matching purse and necklace. Same set behind, same bent-knee pose for two of them, and a thoughtfully-holding-chin addition.

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Another coral-bead necklace, with a dress that has contrasting vertical and horizontal stripes to add interest, as well as an apron detail. This is another example using the open-toed sandals, but this time with white ankle-socks, and the prop is a doll and doll-carriage.

The weird thing is that the back-drop is reversed: presumably just by photographically reversing the image: after he looked at it he probably preferred having her facing left, for some reason……and obviously I’m assuming a prestigious photographic archive wouldn’t have reversed-images in its collection unless the photographer reversed them himself: but perhaps I’m being naive….

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8083-5n Meisje met houten slippers.

These last two are a little strange in that you don’t get a colour/b&w choice, but two different colour washes, and the second one with the image reversed again: subtle differences, but giving his editors some variations from which to choose the one they (hopefully for Walter) wanted to use. The little model has gone back to the head-band from the two initial shots, has the open-toed sandals without ankle socks, and this time has a little wicker basket as a prop – while you’re left guessing what the actual colour of the dress is (pretty patch-pockets, by the way).

It’s perfectly possible, given the use of the same model, the same set, the use of just two different pairs of shoes, that they were all part of one photographic session: the Archive site often gives ’50s – ’60s, 1960 – 65, or a more definite 1962 as their date – and the shape of this final dress looks far more ’60s than ’50s, you can imagine girls wearing a version of it when they were screaming at the Beatles….

I’ll leave you with a single image, the only one I found that doesn’t have a variation (or variations) but is still of the same model and uses the same back-drop:


……a pretty smock-dress with a Peter Pan collar and accent ribbon on the front. Why she should want to play tennis on a city street is anyone’s guess, but I suppose Walter had to use any props he had lying around the studio….

As I said at the beginning, there are a few more images by the great Walter Blum I’d like to post in the future: but no more with this little model or this “city architect’s dream” set, I’m afraid……


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