Peter Gowland gave us all-American girl-next-door glamor. The New York Times dubbed him the “America’s#1 Pinup Photographer” in 1954. Hollywood progeny himself, Gowland spent his life mythologizing the sun, surf and starlets of Southern California. In 1931 at age 15, he began began snapping secret shots of celebrities, gaining access to movie sets via his actor parents. His work would eventually become more contrived, when he began posing the next generation of scantily clad starlets in his family pool, rigging faux waterfalls behind them.
With the help of his wife and business partner, Alice, Gowland photographed legends such as Jayne Mansfield, Joan Collins, Rock Hudson and Henry Miller. Ultimately it became such artifice that he’d have hidden footrests and supports for his models, to help them hold strenuous poses. His career lasted long enough that he almost became a parody of himself. In 2004 Bob Pool of the LA Times wrote that Gowland took “the cheesiness out of cheesecake”–I’d argue that in fact, Gowland was baking the cheesecake, but hey, times change.
He was a fascinating, inventive, industrious figure. If he needed something, a certain kind of camera or crane, he’d build it himself and then mass-market it. He also photographed himself and his wife and kids in a variety of idealized poses–obviously, he bought into the product he was selling. His website is interesting, in part because it seems Gowland has penned the jovial captions and commentary, and in part because it’s so contradictory. Their are the highly stylized “sex-symbol” shots throughout the eras (telling, some of the photos under “Recent Glamour” are from the 80’s), as well candids of vintage Los Angeles beach culture and WWII photos from the years Gowland spent as an Air Force photographer. When Peter Gowland died last week at the age of 93, he took some of the last authentic bits of a certain kind of culture with him. But at least he left that culture well-documented.