Peter Gowland, who we sadly lost seven years ago (March 17, 2010), is my favorite glamour photographer. With his wife Alice by his side, they photographed hundreds of glamorous models over their sixty (plus) year career in Hollywood. When you look at a Gowland photograph, you're immediately struck by the sheer perfection of it. Every little detail was attended to, which I imagine was partly due to there being two sets of eyes on their model. Peter and Alice also had exacting standards for beauty, and for a model to be photographed by them, she had to have just the right facial features. That, combined with a good figure and an ability to pose gracefully (like many glamour photographers, the Gowlands felt that dancers made the best models), they had an outstanding model to begin with. With the Gowland's ability to direct them into the best poses, Alice's choice of wardrobe and help with set design, and Peter's technical skill with the camera and lighting, what you invariably got was a beautifully stylistic photograph.
For the majority of their pin-ups, there is perhaps one salient feature of a Gowland image - the joyous natural smiles featured on the models' faces. In the shots without a large smile, we at least see a very pleasant expression. This, and Peter's distinctive posing style, went a long way towards creating a classic Gowland image.
In addition to the pin-up shots, the Gowlands are also well known for creating some of the most beautiful artistic nudes ever put on film. Artistic nudes are more impersonal than glamour nudes, and in these types of photographs, the model rarely looks into the camera. The models in many of these Gowland photos were not identified, in keeping with the impersonal nature of the work. These artistic nude images mainly dealt with light, shadow and form, as well as the graceful poses of their models.
Peter Gowland was born in Hollywood on April 3, 1916 and began taking photos at the age of 13 after receiving a camera as a gift. He first enjoyed shooting scenic images, but as time went on, he realized that the subject he longed to capture on film was beautiful women. Growing up in Hollywood and working in the movie business as an extra gave him the perfect opportunity. He had lots of coworkers who needed photos. After meeting Alice Adams through a mutual friend in Dec. 1941, the two eloped to Las Vegas on their second date. Once married, the Gowlands spent evenings and weekends shooting portraits and speculative photography (Peter was also working as a cinematographer for North American Aviation at this time).
During WWII, Peter was drafted and sent to Germany where he spent 13 months as the photographer in charge of the base photo lab. While Peter was in Germany, Alice sent three color transparencies of some beach glamour shots to See magazine, and two were quickly purchased and used as cover shots. When Peter returned to the states, he and Alice built their first home/studio and began to build their highly successful glamour photography business.
July 1948 issue of Popular Photography which featured an article entitled "We Introduce...Peter Gowland". On the cover is a Gowland photo of model Pat Hall, which was shot with a 4x5 Speed Graphic, hand held. Exposure was 1/50 at f/7 using Ektachrome film.
March 1950 issue of U.S. Camera with Peter Gowland cover shot of Barbara Freking. Photographed at El Segundo Beach, California using a 4x5 Speed Graphic. Exposure was 1/25 sec. at f/9 using Ektachrome film with one flashbulb for fill.
Some of the Gowlands' classic models include: Diane Webber, Pat Hall, Barbara Osterman, Vikki Dougan, Shirley Bonne, Venetia Stevenson, Charlene James, Frances McHale, Marla English, Judy Crowder, Judy Lee, Joan Bradshaw, Nadine Ducas, Judy Foster, Marli Renfru, Gwen Caldwell, Jeanne Carroll, Brooke Mills, Stephanie McLean, Patti Connelly, Karen Stride, Jill Osborn, Lois Mitchell, Ann Cushing and Candace Thayer.
Peter and Alice also photographed nine Playmates for Playboy magazine. They have been incorrectly credited by some websites as having ten centerfolds printed in Playboy, but it was, in fact, nine. They are:
Lynn Turner (Miss Jan. 1956)
Elsa Sorensen (Miss Sept. 1956)
Sandra Edwards (Miss March 1957)
Jean Jani (Miss July 1957)
Dolores Donlon (Miss Aug. 1957)
Judi Monterey (Miss Jan. 1963)
Susan Denberg (Miss Aug. 1966)
Joey Gibson (Miss June 1967)
Paige Young (Miss Nov. 1968)
The Gowlands' glamour photography appeared in many other mens magazines during the 50s and 60s (such as Cavalier and Rogue), as well as photo publications such as Good Photography, Candid Photography, Prize-winning Photography and Salon Photography. Their work also regularly appeared on the covers of photography magazines like Popular Photography and Modern Photography.
Besides photographing nine Playmates for Playboy magazine, Peter and Alice also photographed many other Playmates for their own commercial assignments, either before or after they appeared in Playboy. They are:
Jean Moorehead (Miss Oct. 1955), Diane Webber (Miss May 1955 and Feb. 1956), Mara Corday (Miss Oct. 1958), Madeline Castle (Miss Oct. 1954), Marilyn Hanold (Miss June 1959), Jayne Mansfield (Miss Feb. 1955), Dawn Richard (Miss May 1957), Zahra Norbo (Miss March 1958), Marianne Gaba (Miss Sept. 1959), Margie Harrison (Miss Jan. 1954 and June 1954), Linda Vargas (Miss Dec. 1957), Sally Todd (Miss Feb. 1957), Cheryl Kubert (MIss Feb. 1958), Joanne Arnold (Miss May 1954), Angela Dorian (Miss Sept. 1967), Reagan Wilson (Miss Oct. 1967), Rosanne Katon (Miss Sept. 1978), Heidi Sorensen (Miss July 1981), Karen Witter (Miss March 1982), Penny Baker (Miss Jan. 1984), Renee Tenison (Miss Nov. 1989), Barbara Moore (Miss Dec. 1992), and Nikki Schieler (Miss Sept. 1997).
A few of the up and coming actresses that Peter and Alice photographed in their own inimitable glamour style included: Mary Tyler Moore, Elinor Donahue, Yvette Mimieaux, Julie Newmar, Maureen Arthur, Barbara Bouchet, Carol Ohmart, Tina Louise, Edy Williams, Nobu McCarthy, Robin Mattson and Debbie Shelton.
Other well known actors and celebrities that the Gowlands captured were: Alfred Hitchcock, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Vera Miles, James Brolin, Peter Lawford, Eleanor Parker, Deborah Kerr, Jane Russell, Dinah Shore, Jayne Mansfield, Jonathan Winters, James Garner, Joan Collins, Muhammad Ali, Ann Margret, Rocky Marciano, Andy Williams, Robert Wagner, Terry Moore, Anne Francis and Esther Williams.
Camera equipment used by Peter Gowland evolved quite a bit over the years. He began with a Rolleiflex and by the mid 40s to early 50s, he was also using a 5x7 view camera, a 4x5 Speed Graphic and a 4x5 Graflex.
In the mid 1950s, Peter longed for the convenience of the medium format Rolleiflex when shooting in 4x5 and 5x7 formats, so he invented and built his first large format 4x5 camera in 1956 that he named the Gowlandflex, a design that had been inspired by the Rolleiflex. Shooting with a normal 4x5 or 5x7 camera forced the photographer to view the image upside down when tripping the shutter release, and Peter naturally found this to be a bit of an annoyance. The waist level finder of his new camera was also better suited to shooting from a low angle, which he employed in many of his glamour images.
By the late 50s, Peter's Rolleiflex cameras were being used less as he prefered the Hasselblad for medium format work, because of its interchangeable lenses. For 35mm cameras, he seemed to have used Nikons during the 50s, but by the early 60s, he began to switch to the Voightlander Bessamatic, and then to a Pentax around '63, which he remained a fan of throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. In the 1980s, he also occasionally used Canon 35mm cameras.
The numerous glamour photography books Peter and Alice collaborated on include:
How to Photograph Women (1954, with a completely revised edition in 1967)
Peter Gowland's Figure Photography (1954)
How to Take Glamour Photos (1955)
Peter Gowland's Glamour Techniques (1958)
Peter Gowland's Photo Secrets (1958)
Peter Gowland's Glamour Camera (1959)
Peter Gowland's Face and Figure Photography (1959)
Peter Gowland's Photo Ideas (1961)
Peter Gowland Photographs the Figure (1962)
Camera in Hawaii (1963)
Camera in Japan (1964)
Famous Figure Photos (1969)
Gowland's Guide to Glamour Photography (1972)
Secrets of Photographing Women (1981)
Peter Gowland's New Handbook of Glamour Photography (1988)
Classic Nude Photography (2001)
Sixty of Peter and Alice's favorite artistic nudes from the 1940s to the 70s are featured in Classic Nude Photography (2001). On the cover is Diane Webber, one of Peter's favorite models.
From 1964 until 2002, Peter and Alice photographed models for the Ridgid Tool Calendar (Ridge Tool Company). Some of the models who appeared in those calendars include Raquel Welch, Stephanie Drake, Kathy McCullen, Cindy Margolis, and several Playboy Playmates, including Renee Tenison, Nikki Schieler, Barbara Moore, Heidi Sorensen and Penny Baker.
If you aren't already aware that the Gowlands have had a tremendous website since 2000, I recommend that you go there immediately and check it out. The address is, http://www.petergowland.com/default.htm
Update: It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Alice Gowland. Alice passed away on April 29, 2014, just over 4 years after Peter's death. She was 94 years old. Both of them will be greatly missed!!