After World War I, photographer Curtis Moffat moved with his wife from New York to London, where he opened a photography studio with the British socialite and society photographer Olivia Wyndham. Over the next decade, Moffat’s stylish portraits of society women would capture the city’s “Bright Young Things” — a name the British tabloids gave to a raucous crowd of young bohemian aristocrats and socialites.
In the mid-1920s, Moffat photographed women like Lady Diana Cooper and the writer and anarchist Nancy Cunard, who wore an eccentric feathered hat for one portrait. He became famous for his portraits of Cecil Beaton, a fellow society photographer who went on to work for Vogue and a young Queen Elizabeth.
He also collaborated with artists like Man Ray to revive abstract approaches to photography, helping to pioneer both the Surrealist and Dada movements. Moffat often composed photograms, placing objects directly onto light-sensitive paper to create translucent, ghostly black-and-white images of insects, pieces of paper he cut into shapes, and gloves. He was a key figure in modernist interior and furniture design too, a passion which is also captured in his photography — in one iconic frame, he photographed Coco Chanel’s winding, mirrored staircase.
The book Curtis Moffat: Silver Society: Experimental Photography and Design, 1923-1935, out last week from Steidl, is the first publication to trace the photographer’s work, featuring 140 of Moffat’s photographs, including society portraits and photograms. Click ahead to preview the book.