Ruth Harriet Louise (1903-1940)
First woman photographer to run the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer portrait studio.
Born Ruth Goldstein, Jan 13th 1903 in New Jersey. Her mother, Klara Jacobson Sandrich Goldstein was from Hungary (now Slovakia) and her father, Jacob Goldstein, was a rabbi from London. They had emigrated to America (via Australia) at the turn of the century.
Ruth’s mother encouraged her to do portrait painting (perhaps because she herself was a frustrated artist) but Ruth soon switched to photography, apprenticing with Hungarian photographer Nickolas Muray. She set up her own studio in New York in 1922 offering “photographs that are different”. Keen to focus on Hollywood, she shot portraits of her cousin Carmel Myers (silent movie actress). After visiting her brother in Los Angeles for several months, she moved in with him and his wife and set up a studio in 1925.
She was quickly hired by MGM on a 5-year contract, and was their only female portrait photographer. She took over 100,000 photos of all the stars at the time, including Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, and Greta Garbo (one of only 7 photographers to do so).
Ruth was interested in costume and setting, and also incorporated cubism, futurism and German expressionism. She used diffused lighting to bring beauty and glamour to her portraits. Ruth was unusual in that she took full-body photographs and then cropped them to focus on details. She stamped her name on all her photos – determined to get acknowledgement.
In 1930 her contract was not renewed, with the role going to George Hurrell, who brought a sexier side to portraits. However, Ruth is considered an equal. She continued working freelance until 1932, when she devoted herself to family life.
She married film director Leigh Jason in 1927 and their first child, a son, was born 1932; he died age 6 of leukaemia. A daughter was born in 1936. Ruth died in childbirth with her third child in 1940, aged 37. She was buried with her sons.
13th January 1903 – 12th October 1940
By Alison Thompson