Jenny Joseph wasn’t a model. She wasn’t an actress. She had never posed professionally before or after. But, following one serendipitous shoot, the doe-eyed British woman became one of the most iconic figures in contemporary film.
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 movies.
“We are both amused by the attention it gets, even to this day,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Kathy Anderson, who shot the reference photos for artist Michael Deas, who used the images as inspiration to paint the 1992 version of the studio’s logo, which is still used today.
It all began in the vibrant jazz-filled heart of New Orleans in the early ’90s, when Deas — whose paintings of renown figures like Abraham Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe hang in museums around the world, as well as adorn several U.S. postage stamps — was commissioned by Columbia Pictures to update its famous logo, featuring a draped woman holding a torch aloft like the Statue of Liberty, an iteration of which has appeared at the beginning 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 its lead image, before it was updated in 1928 to a woman with a draped flag and torch.
Over the next several decades, Columbia introduced variations of the logo — pulling 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. That’s when he recruited Anderson, who jumped at the opportunity.
“Over the years, I have shot many reference photos for Michael, including book covers and commissioned portraits,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “So, when he contacted 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 the time came to scout for models, she explains that Deas wasn’t having much success. One of her Times-Picayune colleagues suggested Joseph, then 28, who was working as a graphic artist for the publication.
Joseph was in the right place at the right time. The first-time model agreed to help Anderson during an impromptu lunch break.
“They wrapped a sheet around me and I held a regular little desk lamp, a side lamp,” Joseph recalled of that day during a 2012 interview with 4WWL. (Joseph, who never modeled again, declined to speak to Yahoo for this story.) “I just held that up and we did that with a light bulb.”
“She turned out to be perfect,” Anderson tells Yahoo Entertainment of Joseph, recalling the day she transformed her New Orleans home for the shoot.
“After moving my dining room table out of the way and converting the living room of my apartment into a studio, I set up a mottled gray backdrop,” she recalls. “I placed a couple of 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 style of lighting 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 fold in the material” and flattered Joseph.
Anderson remembers the session began after Deas arrived with a “box of warm croissants from his favorite French Quarter baker, and various props,” which included "sheets, fabric, a flag and a small lamp with a light bulb sticking out of the top."
“The lamp vaguely resembled a torch,” notes Anderson, who wrapped blue fabric atop a white sheet that had been draped over Joseph’s body. “The materials were carefully arranged,” she recalls. And so, “we began a fun-filled and creatively fused couple hours of shooting, studying Polaroid test prints and rearranging the bed sheet wrapped around Jenny.”
In the interview with 4WWN, Deas recalled the kindness that Joseph exuded on the day of the shoot.
“At some point she just started listing a bit and she very politely said, in her beautiful British accent, ‘Do you mind if I sit down?,’” he said. “And she sat on the edge of the dais and announced that she had just discovered that she was pregnant.”
Joseph couldn’t help but laugh when recalling the memory to 4WWN: “Now my daughter is able to claim that she was there too. ... You never know how paths cross and what’s going to come out of events. I always tell my kids if something comes along, just go for it.”
Admittedly, Deas added, he never thought the image would make it to the silver screen. Frankly, neither did Anderson.
“I was amazed when I first saw the logo appear in a movie theater,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Seeing the image come to life on the big screen seemed 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 with the image.”
Anderson and Joseph, who are still friends today, love reminiscing about their contribution to film history.
“We were both surprised at the notoriety of the logo,” 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 tests of time, for Anderson, a married mom of two adult children, it’s welcomed an even greater gift.
“When my children learned that I made the reference photo, they thought I was cool,” she says, “which is priceless.”