"IT HAS BEEN MORE OF A INTROSPECTIVE TIME FOR ME. ASSESSING PAST WORK, IMAGINING FUTURE WORK AND GETTING RID OF CLUTTER. I EVEN LEARNED TO USE A REMOTE CAMERA TRIGGER THAT I HAD PURCHASED LAST YEAR AND NEVER OPENED THE BOX."
Columbia Torch Lady
All Images © Kathy Anderson, All Rights Reserved
April 19, 2021
One thing that connects all he major film studios from the Golden Age of Hollywood are the films opening logos. Whether it is 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Disney or Universal one studio's logo is perhaps the most iconic, the Columbia Pictures Torch Lady. Ever since the studio was founded in 1924 the Torch Lady has had a few incarnations but it was Michael Deas's recommission in the 1990s that didn't just inject a new life into the logo but also give cinephiles some new history around his creation. With help from his friend, award-winning photographer Kathy Anderson and using one of Anderson's friends and colleagues Jenny Jospeh as the model for the shoot a new iconic logo was born.
Hi Kathy thank you for taking the time to talk to us, how are you holding up during the lockdown?
A few weeks into the stay at home order, one of my neighbours had an impromptu "Driveway Concert." A local band, all roommates who lived together, performed in his driveway across the street from my house. Neighbours emerged -staying six feet apart. I realised I had not left the house in almost four days. When I pulled out my camera to document the event, I realised that I had not touched my camera in weeks. It felt really good!
Has this time providing you with some new creative inspiration?
The comparison to Hurricane Katrina coverage was immediate, and the differences were significant. When the deluge happened in 2005, I was working for a newspaper. Adrenalin kicked in, and I did not stop working for weeks. Then the aftermath coverage lasted for years. Katrina Gallery
With Covid-19, I was no longer working for the newspaper. Unless you were inside of a hospital, the pictures were not obvious. Photographing what was missing (people) was the way to tell the story. I started using the COVID time to take a look back through my archives, experiment in my studio, and photograph those close to me. It was more of an introspective time for me. Assessing past work, imagining future work, and getting rid of clutter. I even learned to use a remote camera trigger that I had purchased last year and never opened the box.
The story behind how the modern Columbia Picture Touch Lady came to being has become pretty iconic, does it surprise you that people are still fascinated and interested in this pretty unique piece of cinema history?
The lady holding the torch that you see at the beginning of every Columbia Pictures movie had a humble beginning in the living room of my New Orleans apartment. In July 1991, when the amazingly talented illustrator (and friend) Michael Deas asked me to shoot reference photos for a painting. At the time, I had no idea how iconic that artwork would become.
Michael had a vision for the piece. I was asked to create a soft light that would accentuate every fold in the material and flatter the model. My penchant for large soft-box light modifiers proved perfect for the assignment. After moving my dining room table out of the way, and basically converting the living room into a studio, I set up a mottled grey backdrop. I placed a couple of boxes on the floor so we could let the fabric drape. A Polaroid back was placed on the Hasselblad camera so we could start with some test shots. The model was Jenny Joseph, a co-worker at The Times-Picayune Newspaper, who now lives in Texas.
Michael showed up carrying a box of warm croissants from his favourite French Quarter baker and various props. These included sheets, fabric, a flag, and a small lamp with a light bulb sticking out of the top. The lamp vaguely resembled a torch. Jenny was wrapped in a white sheet. We shot some with the flag draped over the sheet and some with the blue fabric draped over the sheet. Ultimately blue fabric was chosen. The materials were carefully arranged. Lights were placed to accentuate folds in the fabric and to create a catchlight in the eyes of Jenny. We began a fun-filled and creatively fused couple of hours of shooting, studying Polaroid test prints, and rearranging the bedsheet wrapped around Jenny. At some point during the shoot, Jenny asked if she could sit down for a minute. I shot one frame of her seated, which may be my favourite image from the shoot. But after chatting for a minute, she confided that she was pregnant. After congratulating her, we resumed shooting, but I was worried about her standing on the box. We finished up with a great set of images.
Can you remember the first film you saw at the cinema with the new logo?
The first time I saw the 'Torch Lady' on the big screen, I was speechless. I guess it never sunk in that millions of people would one day see this image. I still get a thrill when I see it on the screen. Now my children (who were not even born when I made these photographs) tell their friends that I shot the reference photos. As a mom, having your kids think that anything you do is a little cool, is a huge accomplishment.
What did this experience mean for you?
Over the years, I have shot many reference photos for Michael, including book covers and commissioned portraits. Even if the "Torch Lady" painting had not become famous, the photoshoot would hold a special place in my heart. Maybe because it took place in my living room, with my good friends, and with those perfect croissants. I will always remember this day fondly.
It seems unthinkable to imagine that something like this would be done today, looking back do you ever think 'how did you manage to do this?'
I guess the "unthinkable" part is that the image became so famous. The reality is that of the 100's of thousands of pictures I created over my career, this one is recognised by many people. It amazes me to this day.
Was this the first time you and Michael J. Deas had worked together on a project of this scale?
We had worked on many projects: book covers, large scale commissioned paintings, etc. None equaled the notoriety of the movie logo.
How did it come about that Jenny Joseph would model for the shoot?
Michael had been looking for a model. One of our good friends from the newspaper, Kenny Harrison, told him that he knew the perfect person – Jenny Joseph. She really was the ideal person.
Have you always had a passion for photography?
I picked up my first camera in college and never looked back. I had an incredible career as a photojournalist and currently lament the sorry state of the newspaper industry. I was lucky to be part of it in its glory days. Now I divide my time with commercial work, portraits, a few weddings, and have started some fine art personal projects.
In 2006 your coverage on Hurricane Katrina was recognised with a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, what did it mean for you to get such recognition for this important work?
Katrina was a traumatic and life-changing experience for me. It was great to be recognised, but the lessons learned about myself much overshadow any award. The experience reinforced my great passion for story-telling. Discovering the resilience of my children, knowing the importance of family, and seeing the sheer love of New Orleans by the people who reside here were great takeaways for me.
Being a New Orleans native was it challenging to pick up your camera a document what was happening around you and the place you call home?
Although I have lived in New Orleans for 39 years. I am originally from Wisconsin. The most challenging photo I ever made was the picture of St. Paul's church shortly after Katrina. This is something I wrote at the Katrina on year anniversary: Someone once told me that you can't make good pictures if you're crying. I kept telling myself this last October as I peered into the viewfinder at chaotic piles of pews thrown around the St. Paul's Episcopal Church by nine feet of water. My mind kept flashing back to the recital ten months earlier, when my then nine-year-old daughter, Alyssa, played a perfect "Minuet and Trio" on the baby grand piano that now lay in shambles among the pews. For the last four years I have started out the day sitting on one of those pews listening to the opening chapel that began the school day for my children. I was confirmed as an Episcopal in front of that altar. My friend, Mary's funeral, was at this church. Now there was concern that her ashes interred in a wall at the front of the church were mixed in with the ashes of others. This was not the first time I cried as I photographed the ruins of my city, and it certainly would not be the last.”
How much has your style changed much since you started out?
I have always loved playing with light, so I guess that has never changed. I continue to experiment with different styles. This year I will attempt to create paintings of some of my favourite images.
Do you have any tips or advice for an emerging photographer?
Embrace the fun! Experiment. Show your work. Study light – in paintings and photographs. If you are supporting yourself as a photographer, take some business classes, charge what you are worth, do all business with contracts.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your work?
I hope people feel something when they look at my work, whether it is sadness (Katrina) or smiles (Columbia Picture logo). If they are engaged emotionally, I have succeeded.