Biography | Bibliography
Paul Outerbridge, Jr. was an American photographer noted for early use and experiments in color photography. Outerbridge was a fashion and commercial photographer, an early pioneer and teacher of color photography, and an artist who created erotic nudes photographs that could not be exhibited in his lifetime.
Outerbridge, while still in his teens, worked as an illustrator and theatrical designer designing stage settings and lighting schemes. After an accident caused his discharge from the Royal Canadian Naval Air Service, in 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Army where he did his first photography work. In 1921, Outerbridge enrolled in the Clarence H. White school of photography at Columbia University. Within a year his work began being reproduced in Vanity Fair and Vogue magazine.
In London, in 1925, the Royal Photographic Society invited Outerbridge to exhibit in a one-man show. Outerbridge then traveled to Paris and became friends with surrealist artists, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Berenice Abbott. In Paris, Paul Outerbridge did a layout for the French Vogue magazine, met and worked with Edward Steichen, and built the largest, most completely equipped advertising photography studio of the times. In 1929, 12 of Outerbridge’s photographs were included in the prestigious, German Film und Foto exhibition.
Returning to New York in 1929, Outerbridge opened a studio doing commercial and artistic work and began writing a monthly column on color photography for the U.S. Camera Magazine. Outerbridge became known for the high quality of his color illustrations, which were done in those years by means of an extremely complex tri-color carbro process.
In 1937, Outerbridge’s photographs were included in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and, in 1940, Outerbridge published his seminal book, Photographing in Color, using high quality illustrations to explain his techniques.
Paul Outerbridge’s vivid color nudes studies included early fetish photos and were too indecent to find broad public acceptance. A scandal over his erotic photography, led to Outerbridge retiring as a commercial photographer and moving to Hollywood in 1943. Despite the controversy, Outerbridge continued to contribute photo stories to magazines and write his monthly column. In 1945, he married fashion designer Lois Weir and worked in their joint fashion company, Lois-Paul Originals. He died of lung cancer in 1958.
One year after his death, the Smithsonian Institution staged a one-man show of Outerbridge’s photographs. Although his reputation has faded, revivals of Outerbridge’s photographs in 1970s and 1990s has periodically brought him into contemporary public knowledge.
Graham Howe and G. Ray Hawkins, Paul Outerbridge, Jr., New York : Rizzoli, 1980.
Elaine Dines and Graham Howe, Paul Outerbridge, a singular aesthetic : photographs & drawings, 1921-1941 : a catalogue raisonne, Santa Barbara : Arabesque Books, 1981.
Paul Martineau, Paul Outerbridge : command performance, Los Angeles : J. Paul Getty Museum, ca. 2009.
David Franke, American modern : Hopper to O’Keeffe / Kathy Curry and Esther Adler, New York : The Museum of Modern Art, 2013.