The Story Behind the Iconic Columbia Pictures Photoshoot

The Columbia Pictures Torch Lady has been gracing the silver screen ever since the company was first founded in 1924, but her real life persona would remain unknown until Michael Deas was commissioned to create a new matte painting in the 1990s.

The photographer who helped bring this latest – and perhaps greatest – incarnation of the Torch Lady to life was Kathy Anderson, we caught up with her on the 25th anniversary of the logo to celebrate the now iconic photoshoot.

Kathy tells DigitalRev that she was good friends with Michael so the July 1991 shoot came together smoothly, once he asked her to help take reference photos for a painting. On a whim, Michael also asked Kathy’s coworker, Jenny Joseph, if she would model for the shoot.

Kathy’s New Orleans apartment was quickly converted into a makeshift photo studio by setting up a large backdrop, Chimera softbox, and a couple Dynalite flash units in the living room. Michael arrived later with a box of croissants to kick off the morning shoot.

“We began a fun-filled and creatively fused couple of hours of shooting, studying Polaroid test prints from my Hasselblad, and rearranging the bed sheet wrapped around Jenny.”

In the calmer moments between the shoot Jenny would sit down exhausted. It was then that Kathy instinctively pressed the shutter and captured a rare sight of the Torch Lady at rest. Michael used the photos of Jenny to paint his masterpiece over the course of two months and the rest is history. He would go on to say in a separate interview that, “meeting Jenny Joseph was providential; she’s a generous, gracious and timelessly beautiful lady. She had never modeled before, and never has since.”

“It was the moment between moments.” /Kathy Anderson, 1991
“It was the moment between moments.” /Kathy Anderson, 1991

Kathy would later go on to shoot many reference photos for Michael, including book covers and commissioned portraits. “Because we both live in New Orleans we are able to stay in touch. Jenny has lived in Texas for quite a while, but through Facebook I can keep up.”

25 years later, Kathy is still excited and thrilled as ever to see Jenny on the screen. As an added bonus, Kathy’s children also find her participation in movie history to be cool, “and that transcends into mom being just a little cool – you can’t get any better than that!”

“The first time I saw the Torch Lady on the big screen I was speechless. I guess it never sunk in that millions of people would one day see this image.”

However, even if the painting had not become famous, the photoshoot would still hold a nostalgic place in her heart, “maybe it was because it took place in my living room, with my dear friend, and with those perfect croissants. I will always remember this day fondly.”

Kathy Anderson is a New Orleans-based photographer specialising in editorial, commercial, documentary, wedding and stock photography. In 2006, her coverage on Hurricane Katrina was recognised with a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Images used with permission