Cornel Lucas photos of Hollywood stars shown in London

Classic Hollywood portraits from the 1940s and 50s by London photographer Cornel Lucas are the subject of a new exhibition.

Mr Lucas, 91, started taking photos with a Kodak Box Brownie given to him by his mother.

And he was soon developing and printing his shots in the bathroom at the family home in Highbury.

Aged 15 he went to work for a film lab but the advent of World War II resulted in him putting his skills to use in the RAF, working in the experimental School of Photography in Farnborough.

After the war he travelled to the United States, hoping to make his name there, but there was no work for a young British photographer. Returning US soldiers were given priority and Lucas came home.

'Join the club'

He brought back with him an eye for Hollywood glamour, which he took to Denham Film Studios where he became an in-house photographer.

This gave him access to the biggest stars of the day, none more so than his first sitter, actress and singer Marlene Dietrich.

She had firm ideas about how she wanted to appear, saying "Mr Lucas, I'm telling you now that a photograph to me is more important than film," he said.

During the shoot, which resulted in just five photographs, the Hollywood star was very precise.

Recalling their meeting, Mr Lucas said: "She looked around and looked at the light and she said I think the light is a bit too hot.

"I took my photographic meter to the... light and she was correct.

"I took them back to her the following morning and she looked at me, very closely, smiled, stood up and said 'join the club'."

From there he never looked back.

During the 1940s and 1950s Lucas photographed some of the most famous and influential faces in the movie business, from Dirk Bogarde to Federico Fellini, Bob Hope and Katherine Hepburn.

Image caption Katherine Hepburn was among the many stars who sat for Lucas

Gallery director Giles Huxley-Parlour describes him as "the go-to guy if you were a film star looking to make it big".

In the golden age of film posters, the portrait had particular influence.

Mr Lucas's eye for composition and lighting gave him his signature style - glamorous, dramatic, beautifully posed.

He said: "I was trying to give a three-dimensional effect of lighting on the face and figure."

He says his best work is of his wife, Susan.

And in his studio at his west London home stands the Bafta awarded to him for services to the British film industry.

Mr Lucas is the only stills photographer ever to be honoured in this way - not that he would ever boast about his achievements.

Cornel Lucas is showing at the Chris Beetles Fine Photography Gallery in central London, until 27 August 2011.

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