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Murray Korman

Time Period: 
New York


Born on March 16, 1900, in Podolak, Russia, Murray Korman and his parents emigrated to New York City in 1912. Trained in graphic artists at the Cooper Union, he worked as a newspaper illustrator, and a kewpie doll painter in the early 1920s. He made money on the side by doing quick sketches of nightclub habitués at their tables. He submitted his petition for naturalization in May of 1928. At the time he was sketch artist for the Spanish language newspaper, La Prensa, and produced a short-lived daily comic strip, "Poor Paddy" that appeared in some New England papers. In late 1929, he opened a photographic studio on the fifth floor of The Mayfair Theatre Building on 47th Street and Seventh Avenue New York City for his theatrical work. In 1940 he opened a second studio at 324 Madison Avenue for his cafe society trade. He employed twelve persons, including his brother, and became the first artist proprietor to sign a wage agreement with the Photo Employees Union in 1943. The 47th Street studio was chaotic, the Madison Avenue venue, sedate.

He quickly made a reputation as a capable New York practitioner of Hollywood style high key high gloss glamour. He distinguished himself from the other major theatrical portraitists of the Depression era by not attempting to manipulate the images graphically. Herbert Mitchell, M.I. Boris, Irving Chidnoff, and Alfred Cheney Johnston all inserted artistic effects in backgrounds. Since Korman's artistry lay in posing and lighting, he limited himself to retouching blemishes. He favored hot small spots angling from the side. "He turned to leg art and nudes because people looked at them and because he found women vain enough to desire that kind of picture. These shots made him the best known photographer of show girls in the Times Square Area." He advertised to open a branch of his studio in Boston in 1948, but the business did not come to pass. In the 1950s he formed a partnership with photographer Gil Ross and the joint studio operated at 32 West 58th Street in Manhattan.

NOTES: "Noted Photographer Selects Bouquet of American Beauties" (Dec 27, 1936). John Ferris, "Murray Korman Leads Two Lives Very Profitably," Syndicated Story, Springfield Daily Republican (Jun 2, 1941), 2. David S. Shields/ALS


In 1947 Murray Korman self published a how-to pamphlet series in five installments entitled, The Art of Glamour Photography. Sold as a "course," it cost $10 and presented his analysis of poses, lighting, and issues with human parts, such as legs and thighs. It codified the sort of celebration of the flesh imagery that the public associated with Korman. Yet he was a more creative figure than the "course" would suggest. He liked Bert Longworth's photographic play with angles. He also had artistic ambitions, manifested perhaps most memorably in his collaboration with Salvador Dali in the "Dream of Venus" film and installation and the New York World's fair. Korman's stills of that installation remain the most evocation trace of that temporary provocation.