Kay Bell Reynal

(United States of America 1905 – 1977)

Strapless dress, Arizona, Vogue No 10

Not on display
Further information

Kay Bell Reynal’s shot of a model posed in a black strapless dress against a white-washed wall is an example of the new aesthetic which would come to dominate fashion photography after the war. This new look, also evident in John Rawlings’s postwar work, was regarded as particularly American: relaxed, natural and expressing ‘real life’ rather than the artifice of the studio. Shot on location with a hand-held camera and natural light, the model in this image appears to have been caught in an off-guard moment – suggesting introspection rather than display. Framed by the strong Arizona sunlight and set against a rustic adobe wall, the setting emphasises naturalness and downplays glamour.

Bell Reynal began her career as an editor at ‘Vogue’ in the late 1930s and started photographing in 1943 with the encouragement of ‘Vogue’s’ art director, Dr Agha. Along with Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Toni Frissell, she was one of the few female fashion photographers of her time. Their careers were facilitated in part by the absence of male photographers during the Second World War. When photographers like Beaton and Horst were seconded to the war effort, the vacancies they left were filled by a number of women who may not have otherwise enjoyed such an opportunity. In 1945 Bell Reynal constructed a sky-lit studio in Manhattan, one of the first such commercial spaces in the city. She continued to take fashion photographs until 1955, when she turned to still-life photography and painting.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

gelatin silver photograph, vintage
34.6 x 27.2 cm image / sheet
Signature & date

Signed l.r.verso, pencil "Kay Bell Reynal". Signed l.r. mount, pencil "Kay Bell Reynal".
Signed and dated verso mount, pencil "1944, Kay Bell Reynal".

Gift of Edron Pty Ltd - 1996 through the auspices of Alistair McAlpine
Accession number
© Estate of Kay Bell Reynal