Greta Garbo


Almost since the invention of the first camera, photographic techniques have been used both to capture and to alter reality. This is especially true of portrait photography, which has successfully transformed real persons into myth and legend with the help of carefully construed images. Henry B. Goodwin, the Bavarian landscape painter whose original name was Heinrich Buergel, was a scholar of Old Icelandic and one of the pioneers of portrait photography in Scandinavia. Goodwin adopted a new homeland and new name and contributed to the visual image of contemporary Swedes by becoming the most renowned society photographer in Sweden in his era. Just as he remade his own image, Goodwin redefined the subjects he photographed. He was an advocate of pictorialism, a school of photography that claimed that aesthetic merit was more important than subject matter. This belief helped him to transform his subjects into icons. He became an image maker, not only promoting the existing images of his clients, but creating completely new ones. In the case of the youthful Greta Garbo, shown here as photographed by Goodwin in 1920, he laid the visual foundation for an image that was global in its iconography and that purposefully eschewed national characteristics.

Last updated: June 28, 2013