In 1934, an entire edition of Muskete, a humorous magazine known for
its caricature and pictorial jokes, was confiscated by Austrian censors
because the Wlassics, a husband-and-wife team of photographers who
operated Studio Manassé in Vienna, had failed to remove in the darkroom all traces of pubic hair on their nude cover photo. The image was
one of their “photographic jokes,” a genre of work popularized by picture
postcards of the early twentieth century that employed trick photography to depict whimsical images such as pretty girls growing on trees,
the cherubic face of a loved one appearing in a wreath of pipe smoke or
a lithe young woman hanging seductively from a businessman’s necktie.
The Wlassics were some of the best European photographers working
within this tradition. But the hint of pubic hair was a major misstep. The
prevailing standards of beauty demanded that the female bodies appear
luminous, as perfected creatures of light, marble, glass. The Wlassics
went back to their studio and amended the photo, and the next month
the magazine was republished without issue.
Despite this slip, the Wlassics were known as experts of the well-placed brush stroke. From 1922 to 1938, with their keen technical ability
and glamorous styling, Olga and Adorján Wlassics created fanciful
photomontages, convincing illusions and graphically compelling images
that filled the pages of a wide variety of commercial magazines, making Studio Manassé one of the most popular photography businesses in
Europe. Their clients ran the gamut from magazine editors and advertising agencies to private buyers.
Styling, staging and photographic work was handled by Olga. She
created the glamorous Manassé vision in their small but dazzling apartment, which also served as their studio in Vienna’s city center. The
rooms and reception area were filled with lavish furnishings—bearskin
rugs, Baroque furniture, tapestries, gilded mirrors, paintings and Greek
pillars used as flower stands—which often appeared as backgrounds or
props. In directorial mode, Olga liked to arrange her scantily costumed
models to create comic allegories and theatrical fictions. She also created quasi-cinematic sequences intended to replicate what viewers had
already come to expect from the movies.
Adorján handled the artistic corrections and montages. He devoted
a remarkable amount of time and ingenuity to perfecting techniques—
primarily retouching, painting and overlaying images—to enhance
Olga’s photographs. Her clever lighting gave the portraits a clear, concise line, but to capture the late-’20s female ideal of a girl-woman with