Jenny Joseph was not a model. She was not an actress. She had never posed professionally before or after. But, after a chance shoot, the doe-eyed Brit has become one of the most iconic figures in contemporary cinema.
Joseph, as you can see, is instantly recognizable as Miss Liberty, the torch-wielding figure in the Columbia Pictures logo that flashes before each of the studio’s films.
“We’re both amused by the attention it’s garnering, even to this day,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Kathy Anderson, who took the reference photos for artist Michael Deas, who used the images as inspiration for painting the 1992 version of the studio. logo, which is still used today.
It all started in the jazzy heart of New Orleans in the early 90s, when Deas – whose paintings of famous people like Abraham Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe are on display in museums around the world and adorn several US postage stamps — was commissioned by Columbia Pictures to update its famous logo, depicting a draped woman holding a torch aloft like the Statue of Liberty, an iteration of which has appeared at the start of every Columbia Pictures film since 1924.
In its early days, the film studio featured a female Roman soldier holding a shield in her left hand as the main image, before being updated in 1928 to a woman with a draped flag and a torch.
Over the following decades, Columbia introduced variations of the logo, taking inspiration from actresses Evelyn Venable (who also voiced the Blue Fairy in Disney’s Pinocchio) and Jane Bartholomew, who was reportedly paid $25 for her efforts and whose likeness inspired the image that was ultimately used by the studio from 1936 to 1976.
When Deas was approached by the studio to paint a modern version of Miss Liberty, he knew he needed an exceptional photographer to capture images he could reference during the creative process. It was then that he recruited Anderson, who jumped at the chance.
“Over the years, I’ve taken many reference photos for Michael, including book covers and commissioned portraits,” she told Yahoo Entertainment. “So when he reached out to me about shooting a reference for the project, I immediately said yes.”
Anderson was working at the time as a photographer for the local newspaper, The Times Picayune, and when it came time to look for models, she explains that Deas hasn’t had much success. One of them Timetable-Picayune colleagues suggested Joseph, then 28, who worked as a graphic designer for the publication.
Joseph was in the right place at the right time. The first-time model agreed to help Anderson on an impromptu lunch break.
“They rolled me up in a sheet and I was holding a regular little desk lamp, a bedside lamp,” Joseph recalled that day during a 2012 interview with 4WWL. (Joseph, who never modeled again, declined to speak to Yahoo for this story.) “I just held this and we did it with a light bulb.”
“She turned out perfect,” Anderson told Yahoo Entertainment of Joseph, recalling the day she transformed her New Orleans home for filming.
“After moving my dining room table and transforming the living room of my apartment into a studio, I installed a heather gray backdrop,” she recalls. “I placed a few boxes on the floor to let the fabric drape. I put a Polaroid back on the Hasselblad camera to start with some test shots.
Deas had a particular vision for the piece, which included a lighting style that Anderson regularly used. Her penchant for large softbox light modifiers proved perfect for the assignment, she says, noting the “soft lighting” choices that accentuated “every crease in the material” and flattered Joseph.
Anderson recalls the session starting after Deas arrived with a “box of hot croissants from his favorite French Quarter baker and miscellaneous paraphernalia”, which included “sheets, fabric, a flag and a small lamp with a light bulb sticking out from the top.”
“The lamp vaguely resembled a torch,” notes Anderson, who rolled blue fabric over a white sheet that had been draped over Joseph’s body. “The materials were carefully arranged,” she recalls. And so, “we began a fun, creatively blended hours of filming, studying the Polaroid test prints and rearranging the bed sheet wrapped around Jenny.”
In the interview with 4WWN, Deas recalled the kindness Joseph exuded on the day of filming.
“At one point she just started listing a bit and she said very politely, in her lovely British accent, ‘Do you mind if I sit down?'” he said. “And she sat down on the edge of the platform and announced that she had just found out she was pregnant.”
Joseph couldn’t help but laugh as he recalled the memory to 4WWN: “Now my daughter can pretend she was there too. … You never know how paths cross and what will come out of the events. I always tell my kids that if something happens, go for it.
Granted, Deas added, he never thought the picture would make it to the big screen. Frankly, neither did Anderson.
“I was amazed when I first saw the logo appear in a movie theater,” she told Yahoo Entertainment. “Seeing the image come to life on the big screen felt surreal. After a while, the image took on a life of its own, which completely surprised me. Decades after its creation, people are still fascinated by the image.
Anderson and Joseph, who are still friends today, love to reminisce about their contribution to movie history.
“We were both surprised at how well-known the logo was,” she explains. “To this day, Jenny occasionally sends me funny GIFs that people have made from the logo.”
Indeed, while the image has stood the test of time, for Anderson, a married mother of two adult children, it welcomed an even greater gift.
“When my kids heard I did the reference photo, they thought I was cool,” she says, “which is priceless.”