Idols and Illusions Exhibition at RWA Bristol

Gawping at photos of celebs dressed to the nines for big events has never been my thing – this may be controversial, but I think it’s actually pretty easy to look good at a glitzy bash. After all, the stars spend bundles of cash and dedicate goodness knows how many hours to looking swish for these things, so they bloomin’ well should look their best. That, to me, isn’t what style is all about. What really interests me is celebrities who look chic off-duty – those who still look ultra cool even when they haven’t done all the preening, primping, styling and general beautifying that goes on before a star-studded awards ceremony.

These days, Twitter is awash with stars’ ‘makeup-free’ selfies, and gossip sites are bursting at the seams with photos of famous peeps at the supermarket, gym, coffee shop – heck, just about anywhere, really – so there’s no shortage of candid snaps. Yet long before the internet existed and these shots were ten-a-penny – yes, I know, it’s hard to imagine, but do try – we mere mortals still had an insatiable desire to see actors in their everyday lives, away from the glamour of film sets and red carpets, and the movie studios knew it. So, to keep the fans happy and the money rolling in, they took publicity stills of their starlets and leading men that were supposedly natural, but were anything but – actors and actresses were contractually obliged to pose for these supposedly candid shots, and all were carefully set up to convey both a feeling of ‘just like us’ normality, and the sense of unattainable glamour that Hollywood thrives on. The golden years between 1925 and 1960 produced some of the biggest names in Hollywood history – Audrey Hepburn, Joan Crawford, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando to name just a few – and all posed for these staged behind-the-scenes photos. These iconic images have had a lasting influence on style today – people all over the world still try to emulate the timeless off-duty looks of the elegant stars of yesteryear, and create countless Pinterest boards populated with these publicity photos.

If you’d like to see these images up close, rather than on a Pinterest page, I suggest you head to the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol to see the Idols and Illusions exhibition pronto. This extensive collection of images lent by the John Kobal Foundation features more Hollywood icons than you can shake a stick at, including Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor and Humphrey Bogart, in all their stylish glory. Although as much thought has gone into these images as a red-carpet outfit, it’s still fascinating to catch a small glimpse of the charmed life of the rich and famous. It seems our infatuation with the lives Hollywood’s beautiful people is an enduring one. The exhibition runs until 16th March 2014.

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One thought on “Idols and Illusions Exhibition at RWA Bristol

  1. I actually like the so called candid shots of by-gone eras. Although most were staged they are a look into the mindset of the times.

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