De Meyer at Vogue: Commercializing Queer Affect in First World War-era Fashion Photography

by Elspeth H. Brown


This article analyzes the work of Baron Adolph de Meyer, a pictorialist whose work revolutionized fashion photography at Vogue between 1913 and 1922. After a brief discussion of de Meyer’s life and work in Europe before emigrating to New York City in 1914, the essay draws on recent scholarship on “public feelings” to investigate the queer context of de Meyer’s photographic work for US Vogue in the years surrounding the First World War. The essay argues that de Meyer brought to Vogue a specific Edwardian structure of feeling defined by a revolt against the rationality of the second industrial revolution and informed by a transatlantic aesthetic movement that privileged emotional life and expression. De Meyer brought together the aesthetic movement with a queer transatlantic counterculture whose style, borrowing from José Muñoz, can be characterized by “affective excess.” De Meyer’s collaborator in several of the Vogue essays was the mannequin and Ziegfeld model-showgirl Dolores, who complemented de Meyer’s camp excessiveness with her signature laconic performance of white affect. In the context of US race politics and commercial culture in the First World War era, de Meyer’s queer aesthetic was also a racial project that played a central role in the commercialization of aesthetic feeling.

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