Sunday, April 28, 2013

Moving Pictures: Howell Conant's Photographs of Grace Kelly

Today, I’m going to do another post in the “Moving Pictures” series. This time, I’m going to confront the issue of artistic photography.

I don’t know if I’ve covered photography yet, but I think it’s pretty apparent that a lot of photography is definitely art. Photography’s realism is one hundred percent, obviously, so I feel a photo becomes a piece of art when it conveys more than mere likeness. Which is something the following photos achieve.

Grace Kelly. She had the it factor, didn’t she? I really don’t think any other actress has every come close to her in terms of beauty, sophistication, wit, talent and dare I say it, grace. I never cease to marvel not only at Grace’s abilities as an actress but also at the incredible way she managed to live so gracefully in the public eye, where she remained beloved.

Grace was first a model, when she was discovered and became a star. She naturally belonged in front of a camera and managed to look stunning each shoot. In 1955, soon after her stardom, fashion photographer Howell Conant was assigned to do some publicity shots for Grace. He was so impressed by her in these shots by the natural grace she conveyed that basically he devoted the rest of his career to her. In fact, his shots of her are basically all that people remember about poor old Conant.

After his publicity shots, Colliers tapped Howell to photograph Grace Kelly during her vacation in Jamaica. He took basically a bunch of candid shots of her enjoying the beach, loving life, all that good stuff.

 She was without makeup, without the fancy clothes, and still she managed to convey that vibrant sophistication that she was loved for.

His photographs of her are works of art in themselves, regardless of the subject. They show balance of color and light and movement. But considering the personality he conveys in them and that Grace Kelly is the subject, they become timeless for me, as they became timeless for the contemporary audience. I really think they speak for themselves.

Needless to say, they were very well received. The one above garnered Howell a cover shot for Colliers, but more importantly Howell had struck up a friendship with Grace Kelly. For the rest of her life, through her royal wedding and her time as Princess of Monaco, he was basically the unofficial court photographer and one of the family friends of Her Serene Majesty and Prince Rainier. He was given access few members of the press were, and his work showed his appreciation. It is almost always flawless.

Conant once said,
"You trusted Graces beauty. You knew it was... natural, unpretentious." 
And it was. She was. 

And that shows through his photography. And the fact that it does show is not merely a credit to Grace’s beauty, but to Conant’s talent as a photographer. His images have kept her spirit alive over the years and kept her best traits- her natural elegance and spirit of life- fresh in the minds of those who view the pictures.  And that is an effort worth lauding. 


  1. Fantastic! Loved reading this and seeing the images.

  2. Grace actually supported herself with modeling, it was not a job she loved but she made enough money to live completely independent of her wealthy family (even paying her father back for her first year of tuition, room and board) before she was 20. She was studying acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC and auditioning for everything - her goal was always Broadway, not film (can you imagine not seeing that face in movies?!)
    Howell Conant was absolutely Grace's best photographer - I love seeing those collaborations, like Milton Greene and Marilyn Monroe (IMHO, Greene only took one good photo of Grace, but his of MM were impeccable)

    Did you look into his work? He was so trusted by Grace that he took many photos of the princely family in Monaco, but he worked all the time. The photo that became the Collier's photo (so gorgeous!) was the 7th try, so it was definitely posed. Grace borrowed some water-proof mascara and lipstick and put her head under the water, came up seven times, and then that (above) happened. It is perfection, even the water droplet that dangles like an earring!
    Most of the 1955 Jamaica shots were posed, but so much more natural, so I see why one would think they are candid. He said she had one flaw, which was that her jaw was too square, so you'll usually see her in 3/4 profile or holding a pet, a baby, or with a shirt collar popped up.
    Howell was packing to leave for Monaco when he was told Grace had died. It was the only time he left the country without his camera.

    She really was lovely and talented, but the more I learn about her - and I have done almost 20 years of research - the more I learn how nice she was. No snobbishness, no diva-like attitude. Loved to laugh. I wish the world wanted to see that side more often.

    Thank you for posting some of their work together, I recommend his book GRACE to everyone, it's a must-have. (Oh and that photo at the top, the one used as the cover of GRACE, if you have a chance, look for the original! There is a surprise in the bottom left-hand corner ;0))


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