Posted January 2016 in Alternate Processes, History of Photography, Journals, New Additions, Publishing, Texts
Sigismund Blumann, (1872-1956) an American who became an important editor and photographer after moving to San Francisco, California from New York City in the early 1880’s is our subject for this post, along with his involvement with and history of Camera Craft magazine. Never heard of him? A few relevant but by no means comprehensive list of details about this gentleman whose friends addressed him as “Sig” for short:
⌘ West Coast champion for photography in his role as Editor-in-Chief of Camera Craft magazine from 1924-1933. Prolific writer for said journal whose love of language sometimes lead to his mangling of it, but only with the best of intentions.
⌘ Significant pictorialist photographer from the same period and earlier whose darkroom work was equally inventive and important.
⌘ So gregarious in affect, photographic historian Christian A. Peterson duly notes, (1.) that as editor, he personally answered all correspondence sent to him by his 8000 monthly Camera Craft readers in addition to his regular duties of penning multiple articles for each issue.
⌘ Possession of a sly sense of humor: look no further than a ca. 1930 self-portrait in which his suit lapel sprouts a long cable release rather than a floral boutonnière.
⌘ Conservative writer in print who often took a while to accept new ideas: as one example, Peterson notes his use of the made-up word “Sewereelism” included in a 1938 editorial written by him on his feelings towards the failings of the art movements Surrealism and Dada for the magazine Photo Art Monthly, a publication he owned himself. (2.)
⌘ Pipe smoker extraordinaire. Featured not only in the above referenced self-portrait but immortalized by artist W.R. Potter in print every month as artistic caricature shown smoking and reading a book used for his Under the Editor’s Lamp column in Camera Craft beginning in April 1926.
Sigismund Blumann: Short Biography
For the past three years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of corresponding with Thomas High, Sigismund Blumann’s grandson, and been equally fortunate in acquiring a small archive of Sig’s vintage work for PhotoSeed previously kept in the family. Unlike Sig’s friends, Tom tells me, as a boy of perhaps five or six, he would of course address him as Grampa Blumann. Tom goes on to say:
”I only wish I had known him better – he died when I was a child, and my only real memories of him were playing rummy and whist with him.”
Tom has also agreed to let me reprint for purposes of introduction the following short biography of his grandfather written in October, 2009, for which I’m very grateful.
Sigismund Blumann (1872-1956) by Thomas High
Sigismund Blumann was born on September 13, 1872, in New York City, the son of Alexander Blumann and Rosalie (Price) Blumann. He came to San Francisco with his parents in late 1881 or 1882, and subsequently became a professional pianist and music teacher.
Sigismund Blumann married first on August 30, 1894, to Adele Morgenstern. They divorced in May of 1895. He married second on June 4, 1901, to Hilda Axelina Johansson and they subsequently had four daughters, Ethel, Amy, Lorna, and Vera.
In the 1890s, Sigismund Blumann became interested in photography and had begun taking photos seriously by 1900 while living in San Francisco. At the time of the San Francisco earthquake on April 9, 1906, he and his wife were still living with his parents on Army Street. He volunteered to help the recovery and, with his official permits, got through the lines and took a number of photographs.
Mr. Blumann was also a prolific writer and he authored numerous articles, commentaries, and poems.
After the 1906 earthquake, the Blumanns moved to Davis Street in Fruitvale (later part of Oakland). From that time, all of his photographic work was done in his darkroom at the Davis Street home.
Photography increased in importance in his life, and at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition he combined all of his talents: he played in an orchestra, photographed the Fair, and worked as a correspondent for the New York Tribune and other newspapers.
In the early 1920s, Sigismund retired from an active career in music and entered the profession of efficiency engineering, with offices in the Monadnock Building in San Francisco. His principal client was the Forster Music Publishing Company.
He continued his interest in photography and in 1924 he became editor of Camera Craft magazine. In addition to editing the publication and writing numerous articles for it, he also wrote the Photographic Workroom Handbook, published by Camera Craft in 1927.
Mr. Blumann’s last issue as editor of Camera Craft was in August of 1933. Several months later, he launched his own magazine, Photo Art Monthly, which he edited and published until 1940. During this period, he also produced several more manuals for amateur photographers, including the Photographic Handbook, Photographic Greetings - How to Make Them, Enlarging Manual, and Toning Processes.
In 1940, he sold the Photo Art Monthly to his assistant, Franke Unger (who married photographer Adolf Fassbender about the same time). She soon closed the magazine.
The Blumanns continued to live at their Davis Street home for the rest of their lives, joined by their unmarried daughters, Ethel and Lorna Blumann, both librarians. He produced little photographic work in the 1940s and 1950s, contenting himself to dabble in photography and discuss it with his new son-in-law, William A. High, who married his daughter, Vera, in February of 1943. Bill High was a commercial photographer before World War II, a combat photographer for the US Army during the war, and the founder of the photography department at Oakland’s Laney Trade School (later Peralta Junior College) thereafter.
Sigismund Blumann died in Oakland on July 9, 1956, and Hilda Blumann died on February 1, 1958, also in Oakland.
Sigismund Blumann’s photos are in the Oakland Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art, High Museum in Atlanta, and elsewhere.
For further information, see “Sigismund Blumann, California Editor and Photographer,” by Christian A. Peterson, in History of Photography, vol. 26, no. 1. (Spring 2002).
Beginnings in Word and Photography
Writing under his infrequent pen name Charles H. Fitzpatrick in Camera Craft in 1925, (3.) Sig most likely gives us a small hint of his own beginnings in photography, a passion that would soon evolve into his extensive documentation of life of San Francisco’s bustling Chinatown neighborhood in 1901. (4.) Later in this capacity as street shooter, he played the role of documentarian in the aftermath of the destruction of San Francisco in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent job as part-time portrait photographer after relocating to neighboring Oakland in 1907 due to the destruction. (5.) all while making his living as musical performer and teacher) :
Having become interested in Photography back in 1900 as an amateur with an old style Adlake plate camera, and two years later as a professional with a studio— and almost continuously since in Commercial Photography the author has had a wonderful opportunity to study composition both by experience and observation of the work of others. (6.)
It was sometime in the 1890s, photographic historian Christian A. Peterson notes, that he “first used his wife’s Kodak camera to make snapshots and soon began searching the photographic periodicals for information and advice.” (7.) His editorship of Camera Craft as momentous professional occasion aside, Sig’s immersion in all things Photographic may very well have reached a high-point by 1933, the year he became a charter member of the Photographic Society of America as well as being honored a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
Photography in itself however was not his only reason for being during his professional career as editor, and even earlier as a musician. This was because Sig was a romantic at heart, a dreamer who had a great fondness for language, and the will to commit it to paper. Starting out for example, only in his early 20’s, he composed the following poem for the April, 1895 issue of the California-based magazine Overland Monthly:
PLEASURE is like perfect liquor,
Sweet to taste and after taste,
And like, too, in that when gotten
We imbibe too much, then waste,
And we find when pleasure passes
Life is empty as the glasses.
Wearing the hat of Poet-in-Residence at Camera Craft, Sig never neglected this early love of poetry for the publication, often combining his own photographic efforts alongside original compositions. One example, which he titled Lugubrio, though technically not even a real word, appeared in April, 1927, and was his way of simply assigning a mournful, or lugubrious meaning to his own photograph depicting jagged rocks and crashing waves-seen in his dramatic coastal landscape most likely taken on the Pacific coast:
By Sigismund Blumann
The drowned and dead, now turned to stone,
Stand watching by the shore
And you may hear them through the night,
From set of sun to morning light,
As they shall do for evermore,
Weep as they watch, and moan. (p. 177)
Camera Craft: Western Photographic Journal
Although he’d been a contributor to its’ pages in words and photos after the first decade of being founded, it would be 24 years from the journal’s 1900 founding until Sig would begin to establish an enduring legacy in the history of photography via his role as Editor-in-Chief of Camera Craft. Some historical background on the intents and purposes for this ground-breaking publication are in order.
First based in San Francisco at 120 Sutter Street and issued monthly by the Camera Craft Publishing Company under the direction of editor W.G. Woods, the photographic journal Camera Craft was founded on the principles the West Coast of the United States should have an equal geographical mouthpiece of influence to counter that of the East Coast in promoting photography-for both professional and amateur workers. (to this end a separate page was devoted monthly to the happenings of many California amateur clubs) For the first issue of May, 1900, the following observations and arguments were made by the journal in support of these ideals:
The growth of photography, the introduction of simplifying methods in scientific picture-making, during the past twenty-five years is one of the wonders of the century. The phenomenal strides made by the photographic inventors of the world, resulting in the production of simple devices and convenient appliances, have made photography in all of its branches an almost universal fad. The Pacific Coast, ever ready to appreciate the merits of an innovation, has kept well abreast in the steady march of progress.
The wonderful climate of California lends itself enthusiastically to the wants of the photographer. The hand of Nature has reared, in eternal beauty, scenic effects unequaled elsewhere on earth. The very atmosphere of the Far West encourages the artistic impulse of its people. With such great natural advantages it is small wonder that when the western photographer has seen fit to cross the continent to compete with the eastern brotherhood he returns with laurels upon his brow. Not less wonderful is the existence of the largest Camera Club in the world in the city of the Golden Gate.
Yet, strange as it may seem, this great class of enthusiasts, this immense body of earnest workers has never been represented by a publication worthy of its trust. The photographers of the West have for years depended upon the journals of the East for enlightenment, but have looked in vain for recognition in their columns. It is to remedy this condition that Camera Craft now makes its bow to the public.
As to the scope of Camera Craft nothing can be said; it will have to speak for itself. The only promise made is the sincere intent on the part of the publishers to improve with each succeeding issue. The one hope of the magazine is that it may be so conducted as to meet the approbation of its readers and lend its aid to the material welfare of all interested in photography, whether for pleasure or for profit. (p. 26)
With its second issue for June, ambitions quickly shifted in support of the establishment of a West-Coast professional organization:
“Camera Craft intends to agitate the question of a Pacific Coast Convention of photographers. General inquiry throughout the state has led to the belief that such a convention is not only desirable but an actual need to those who make their living through the lens and shutter.” …We recall instances where photographers of this coast have attended conventions in the East and have returned with easy honors. Camera Craft would be pleased to learn of a serious consideration of the idea. A convention held in San Francisco with a first-class salon as an adjunct would undoubtedly lead to a permanent organization, and result in the advancement of the craft in a manner hitherto untried.” (p. 68)
Although preceded geographically and in scope by the Pacific Coast Photographer, a short-lived monthly established in 1892 and believed to have ceased publication several years later, Camera Craft thrived as a robust Western photographic journal for the next 41 years. It first accomplished this under the capable tenure of editor Fayette J. Clute in the early decades of the publication before Sig took over in 1924, and was carried forward by him and others until the economic and human realities of World War II forced it’s hand. This occurred after the March, 1942 issue, when Camera Craft ironically headed back East so to speak, when it was absorbed by the Boston-based American Photography magazine. An editorial appearing in the final issue stated the decision to cease publishing was made because editor George Allen Young was taking his place in the armed services among other realities.
Sig As Camera Craft Editor: 1924-33
Photographic historian Christian A. Peterson, who called Camera Craft “the leading West Coast photographic monthly” and whose in-depth reassessment of Sigismund Blumann’s life and career was cited at the conclusion of Tom High’s short biography of his grandfather, called Sigismund Blumann:
”a prominent tastemaker in Californian photography during the 1920s and 1930s”. (8.)
Having an audience of 8000 monthly Camera Craft readers after coming aboard as chief editor in 1924 was surely a great start to becoming a tastemaker, but Sig proved his worth during the following nine years for his ability to impart to readers the essential knowledge of the ever-changing progress of photography. This took place in conjunction with his maintaining the vision of remaining true to himself-no matter how quirky some of his readers undoubtedly perceived him- while unashamedly promoting photographic talent in the pages of the magazine where he saw fit.
But some things remained the same after he took over. One, perhaps appropriate considering his musical background, was his retention of the subhead: “Conducted by Sigismund Blumann” for the journal’s long-established editorial column The Amateur And His Troubles previously edited by Paul Douglas Anderson. This time, an actual orchestra conductor was indeed stepping in to conduct editorial affairs! Keeping this personal touch intact-especially to those who knew him as someone passionate of music his entire life, was just one way of his remaining connected with readers as well as professional and social acquaintances in the Bay Area. Under Sig’s moderation, the column continued to offer advice dispensed by any number of well regarded authors who broke down and offered solutions to problems encountered by amateurs in the field relating to anything from photographic equipment to darkroom dilemmas.
His second column, a new feature which debuted with the November, 1924 issue, was called CHIT CHAT About our friends. A vehicle for Sig’s effusive boosterism of photography in general, both professional and amateur, it was written in a style that might best be described, amusingly, as slightly syrupy in tone but delivered with erudition. Profiles on photographers he found interesting, and news of California camera clubs were a constant monthly feature of the column in addition to news of major upcoming exhibitions as well as critiques and results from those salons happening not only on the West Coast but throughout the United States and beyond. Comically subtitled: “Ye Editor Retaileth Newes of Ye Profession And In Quaint Italics Titillateth Ye Sphynx With Hys Quill”, the column’s “titillations” were often just longish aphorisms managing implied or direct associations to something photographic. Appearing rather infrequently at the column’s outset and disappearing altogether by August, 1931 when this inventive take on the English language was eliminated, they appeared from time to time, with several reprinted below for his January, 1926 column:
“Every time you get the best of a customer you have cheated yourself.”
“The most expensive lens may not be the best but the cheapest is pretty sure to be the worst.”
Lastly, and most importantly, one of the most personal reasons for Camera Craft’s success under Sig was his entirely self-written Under the Editor’s Lamp column, debuting with the April, 1926 issue. Already a fixture by means of the pen to his many readers-in prose as well as poetry- the column gave a final say so to speak to his personal views-conservative to be sure-on just about anything going on regarding photography and musings on current events. With accompanying column artwork by California artist W.R. Potter portraying Sig kicking back while puffing his pipe and seated at a library desk, the column became an effective way for this journal’s Editor-in-Chief to assume the role of oracle and brand ambassador. Sig’s short forward for his first Under the Editor’s Lamp :
When the desk is cleared of paste-pot and shears and the lamp is lit, it is good to put a match to the freshly loaded, old pipe and take a puff or two, letting the mind’s mind relax into mere dreams. The lamp is a sentimental fiction, of course, being a standardized glass bowl with a bulb glowing through, but the pipe is real, the mood is sincere, and we hope the mind exists, more or less.
Out go our thoughts to readers unseen, perhaps never to be met except as a large, critical, voracious body of men and women who consume the forty-eight pages of pictures and text and off-hand decide the fare has been very good, fair, or rotten. Little do they care what labor, what hopes, what ambitions went into every line and every illustration. Why should they. The best is no better than their due. (p.180)
M.Q. Developer to Develop Good Feeling
Because Camera Craft billed itself the official organ of the Pacific International Photographers’ Association, (PIPA) with owner Ida M. Reed acting as Secretary and headquartered in the same San Francisco offices as the journal, (703 Market in Claus Spreckles Building) news of the Association-which covered a wide western geographic area including membership from Alaska, Alberta, Arizona, British Columbia, California, the Hawaiian Islands, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington states- became a regular monthly feature of the previously discussed Chit-Chat column. By 1927, Sig was hitting full-stride at Camera Craft, his writing skills undoubtedly honed through his reminisces featured in the Editor’s Lamp column.
The following account is a result of this, of Sig’s prodigious social engagement with members active in the Bay-area camera club scene. In a humorous yet telling example of his own admission to preserve the rightful history of one particular PIPA (often referred to as a club) meeting for Chit-Chat, the March, 1927 issue duly reported on the Past Presidents Night dinner dance at San Leandro’s Toyon Inn on Feb. 15, 1927. Taking place when Prohibition was still the law of the land in America, (9.) Sig’s account made sure to include the lengths employed at the soirée in order for those attending to enjoy the social, and inebriating benefits of some “liquid cheer”:
But hold, before we close it must be chronicled as it shall be inscribed in the archives of the club that each guest found a developing tray and two glass graduates before him. It was a paper tray, so that when dropped the falling tray might not raise the deuce. In one of the two ounce graduates water was served and in the other M.Q. developer to develop good feeling. A bucket of Hypo was kept in the ante-room to fix the police, and everything was provided to make a perfect picture except bromide. If any was needed it was the next morning. (p. 145)
Camera Nut to the End
Considering he was having an awfully good time in his position as Editor-in Chief, an observation certainly not witnessed by this writer but most obvious by the written evidence left for posterity, Sig’s resignation at the end of July, 1933 does seem a bit abrupt. Historian Christian A. Peterson speculates he and owner Ida M. Reed “parted ways over deep differences.” (10.) But with the installation of Camera Craft veteran George Allen Young to replace him, Sig was none the less given deserved praise by owner Ida Reed the following month:
Since 1924 we, and the readers of this magazine, have enjoyed his contagious enthusiasm, and his wide technical knowledge of photography,. He leaves with our best wishes for success and happiness. (p. 387)
Earlier, for his final Under the Editor’s Lamp column written in July, 1933 and published the next month, his nine-year run at the journal concludes with a perhaps knowing, but certainly wistful remembrance of his good times spent there. Recounting adventures in photography that summer while traveling the California High Sierra, Sig first gives accolades to the efforts U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was giving to get American industry moving again during the ongoing Great Depression before concluding by stating his own continued love affair with photography:
Does thinking of Yosemite and speaking of photography seem like reductum ad absurdum to you? It should not for I can allow myself so very short a time in that garden of The God and I can so effectively carry some of its glory and inspiration over the rest of the year with what my camera has enabled me to bring home, that it is natural to raise the picture, as near as imagination makes possible, to the original.
As I look at the screen and project the pictures, studying how to express my reactions when on the spot, I once again smell the pines and hear the rush of the Merced as it boils over the Happy Isles. In the quiet and the benignancy of the red light fancy builds Half Dome, El Capitan, and the Domes anew.
The old rags that made us free. The open spaces that made us immortal in spiritual disembodiment. The camera that vitalized every hour of the day with its assurance of creative picture making. Friends, I am glad, very glad, to be a camera Nut. (p. 343)
With that, a poem by Sig somehow seems a good fit in ending this remembrance about the young boy who moved to California and proceeded through hard work and perseverance to embrace the Golden State as his own. Along with possessing the gift of innumerable talents and more than a few dreams, he managed to share them with many others.
THE QUIET CORNER by Sigismund Blumann
A PIPE, some books, a flower or two,
The picture of one gone before
Who stands without the open door
And shall not die.
When work is through
Some day, some day, when rest is won
And the long, long duty-season done,
I’ll sit me down to taste the best
Of books, tobacco, men and things:
To listen when the spring-bird sings— Looking in peace toward the West.
Against that day, and I am spared,
My quiet corner stands prepared.
1. see: Early Years in Photography: “Sigismund Blumann, California Editor and Photographer”, by Christian A. Peterson in History of Photography, vol. 26, no. 1. (Spring 2002) p. 59.
2. Ibid: in: Photo Art Monthly, 1933-40: p. 73
3. It would not be until July, 1934, in an updated version of this 1925 Camera Craft article on describing the process of turning photographs into dry point etchings in Photo-Art Monthly, that evidence of Fitzpatrick and Blumann being the same person would seem to be confirmed. In it, the illustrated example of Blumann’s credited photograph titled “Land’s End” is also shown reproduced into the converted dry point etching with credit given to Fitzpatrick. Editorially, it might seem odd to continue this pen-name fiction with Blumann even going to lengths to construct a suspect history in 1925 of “Fitzpatrick’s” own beginnings although the reason was most likely intended as another way of imparting education on a topic deemed worthy and educational enough in the eyes and mind of the editor himself.
4. Copies of at least 43 documentary photographs, with several corresponding paper negative envelopes dated 1901 by Sigismund Bluman, were donated by his family to the California Historical Society where they can be viewed as part of the collection “The Chinese in California: 1850-1925.” The following link includes a smaller sampling of later printed examples, (some hand-colored) along with a rare surviving example titled “Ruin” (a detail included with this post) from 1906 of earthquake damage taken by the photographer as well as several portraits of Sig taken by others.
5. see: citation #1: p. 54.
6. excerpt: introduction: Making Photographs Into Dry Point Etchings: by Charles H. Fitzpatrick Illustrated by the Author: in: Camera Craft: October, 1925: San Francisco: p. 485.
7. see: citation #1 p. 54
8. Ibid: introduction: p. 53
9. American Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages.
10. see: citation #1 p. 65
11. In order to make one of these etchings, the article instructs that after first selecting a printed photograph with little detail, the next step is to: “draw as much as he can on the photograph, using Higgins’ Water Proof India Ink. When this is absolutely dry the silver is completely bleached out with Bichloride of Mercury or Iodine-Iodide bleachers. The pen shading and finishing is then done with care, when the bleached and washed print has been dried.” From here, the article states a copy negative must then be made which is used to make the final second-generation finished (and reduced for effect) “etchings” using various grades of photographic paper: “The method of reproducing drawings is very simple. Place drawing on wall or easel and camera on firm support exactly centering lens on drawing, making exposure on a slow copy plate by diffused daylight or electric light, and develop for contrast. In copying it is advisable to reduce the image one-third smaller than the original as a finer line is thus secured which improves the finished print. The writer prefers a buff stock, matt paper of medium grade and heavy; and has found Vitava E just right: This is a matter of choice, however, as good prints may be secured on Azo, Velox, Cyco, Kruxo, Defender, Haloid, Barston, Charcoal Black or other matt papers. Proceed as in ordinary photographic printing then tone by re-development, using whatever process you prefer. I use Royal-Re-developer with pleasing results.” In the later 1934 article: “Etchings From and With Photographs”, “Fitzpatrick”goes further in depth on this etching process, adding that after the second-generation reduced copy print is made, the print could be “treated through all the usual solutions in the usual way and may be developed in any of the prescribed formulae for blue-black, jet-black, warm-black, or dark brown tones. Or it may be subsequently toned by the bleach and redevelop methods. The particular brown of an etching is easily gotten on Vitava Athena with a developer containing Athenon. Azo P-2 or 3, Vitava Athena E, Novira in the matt smooth or rough are all fine for the purpose. Gevalux gives a wonderful image in a true carbon black color and velvet crayon patine.” Continuing, the article offers a summary of the entire process: “That is all there is to the whole thing. You could not complicate it if you tried. Just make an enlargement, work on it with pen and ink, bleach out the silver leaving the ink image, photograph the line drawing, make as many etching-prints from the copy negative as you wish. Where can you go wrong? How can you fail?” He concludes by saying the maker of these etchings could also go “one step further by using hand-sensitized photographic papers for this final second-generation completed “etching”: “Furthermore, should you desire to print on colored papers or card- board of such surface as cannot be bought ready sensitized it will be a simple matter to sensitize any stock with the well known Blue Print solutions, or if the various shades of brown and black are wanted to resort to Kallitype. These processes are as cheap as they are easy to compound and use; they work on any paper not too saturated with chlorides or unfixed dyes. Kallitype is moreover a beautiful process in itself and prints endure according to the care in making them.”
Posted January 2016 in New Additions, PhotoSeed, Typography, Unknown Photographers
Posted December 2015 in Engraving, Painters|Photographers, PhotoSeed, Publishing, Typography
Posted December 2015 in Alternate Processes, Cameras, Color Photography, New Additions, Photography, Unknown Photographers
If the story is to be believed, the contents of a mystery trunk ⎯the artistic passion of yet another unknown early 20th Century photographer ⎯have been saved once again in the name of photographic collecting. The evidence was several hundred photographs tucked inside:
”The dealer had bought a trunk from an estate of a lady who had passed away.”
A story I’ve encountered before in my online foraging. My offer, in order to keep the archive together, was fortunately accepted, and now share with you a glimpse of some of these fruits.
Typically, when photographs enter this collection, initial research on origins and other factors are made and then set aside-often for years- until more deductions can be made or oftentimes additional primary source material percolates into that vast library we all humbly know as the public Internet.
But exceptions, at least in my world, always exist. For these latest trunk photographs coming to light, my discovery a small portion documenting a place and event celebrating 100 year anniversaries in 2015 were primary motivators in showcasing them now with this post. These were the establishment of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden in 1915 at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, considered the first Japanese garden created in an American public garden, as well as a small cache of photographs taken the same year at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, California.
But there’s more as they say. Many of the photographs: gorgeous little jewels printed directly onto small impressed and ruled pieces of photographic paper which act as mounts-some toned in verdant hues of green for landscapes, blues for seascapes and others beautifully hand-colored, are known to have been taken in the mother of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden itself, the expansive 585-acre Prospect Park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux- Brooklyn’s version of New York City’s Central Park which is celebrating its’ 150th anniversary in 2016.
Frustratingly, the photographer’s identity responsible for these fruits is presently unknown, other than a cyanotype image included with the collection showing a dapper gentleman believed to be this person standing behind a tripod-mounted Graflex model camera. Photographically printed within the outlines of a leaf while standing in a park-like setting, he wears a straw boater hat while dressed in a suit and raises his hand clenching a pipe towards the scene before him as if to say, “now that’s a scene worthy of my camera”, or something to that effect.
Several other photographs showing an unknown woman, most likely the photographer’s wife, or perhaps the artist herself, (can’t be ruled out) were also included in the trunk photographs. In one, a full-length profile view, she examines a Magnolia blossom in a park setting. (shown here) In another, her gaze is directed towards the camera while wearing an Asian influenced floral dress posing in front of blooming Wisteria vines. The dealer who had initially acquired the photographs, according to the seller I purchased them from, stated they had been acquired from the estate of a woman, (most likely depicted in the photographs) who had (presumably) attended or graduated from Wesleyan Female College, (now Wesleyan College) in Macon, Georgia at the turn of the 20th Century.
And even though the photographs ended their life residing in a mystery trunk in the American South, I’ll label them for now as being the work of Unknown Brooklyn, in order to keep their attribution consistent for those searching this archive going forward.
Posted November 2015 in New Additions, Publishing
Posted October 2015 in Alternate Processes, Painters|Photographers, Publishing
Photography up to our modern day is by definition “Drawing with Light”, whereby the permanent recording of an object is achieved via electronic or chemical action. Simplistically this makes sense, but in order to make the outcome relevant and interesting enough to matter, especially in our visually overloaded present, practitioners to put it mildly need to include a bit of heart and soul into their efforts.
Emery Gondor (Emerich Göndör: 1896-1977) had these last two qualities in abundance. A Hungarian artist of prodigious talent who worked in multiple artistic disciplines including photography, the recent acquisition by this archive of some of his signed 1925 linocuts prove a teachable moment for why the manipulations of light and dark in another medium are instructive for creative souls in the present.
Some background, including the reality and history of turbulence in early 20th Century Europe, are critical to our understanding in how artists like Gondor could not be defeated by hatred which destroyed millions of lives and split apart society’s fabric there.
Indeed, his empathy for those shattered lives were taken to heart in the aftermath of his three and a half year service as a soldier in World War I which changed his life forever. Combined with his interest in progressive art education for children discovered in the early 1920’s while attending Vienna’s Academy of Industrial Arts and his work with emotionally disturbed children at the University Clinic there gave him an outlet and purpose for artistic expression, and would culminate towards the end of his career in the 1960’s as director of the art program at the Institute for Mental Retardation at New York Medical College (today : Westchester Institute for Human Development) after earning a degree in Clinical Psychology from New York State University. (1.)
In an 1936 artist profile published in the graphic arts journal PM Magazine soon after his immigration to the United States from Europe, Emery Gondor writes:
”But my real interest and love is children. I illustrated many children’s books for the “Union Verlag” Stuttgart, the biggest children’s publishing house, and other youth-publications.” …I made up many hundreds of games for children, puzzles for adults, comic strips. I exhibited again and wrote many articles about humorous observations of children. I always received hundreds of fan letters from my children friends.” (2.)
The Germinal Circle
As a young artist living and just getting by in Vienna after WWI, Gondor did not shy away from progressive ideas as well as the opportunity to sell his original artwork while promoting himself. Traveling to London in late 1923, he did live caricature sketches of poems read aloud by their authors on November 5th and 23rd as an invited guest of the Germinal Circle. Organized by the Italian anarchist Silvio Corio and his lover Sylvia Pankhurst, a like-minded British writer whose mother Emmeline Pankhurst was the leader of the British suffragette movement, the circle was an artistic and literary salon for their short-lived political and cultural monthly magazine Germinal founded the same year. (3.)
Several of Gondor’s original linocuts, including one incorporated into an advertisement showing a figure with outstretched arms standing next to a grouping of over-sized flowers facing emanating sun rays were reproduced as part of promotional literature in Germinal. The artist from this period is described in a typescript document held with the reproduction in the library of the Leo Baeck Institute in New York City:
The Germinal Circle has pleasure in introducing the work of Emerich Gondor, a young Hungarian artist, who has not previously exhibited in this country. A rapid caricaturist and cartoonist, he works with equal facility through lithography, wood-cuts, lino-cuts and many other mediums. (4.)
Sehnsucht nach Licht: Yearning for Light
Emery Gondor’s style in his surviving linoleum cuts from the early 1920’s were certainly influenced by the German Expressionists, and of the heartbreak and for many, hope in the aftermath of the first World War. With emotional joy and pathos rendered in exaggerated strokes of light and dark, the symbolism of the sun and its streaming rays reaching out to embrace humankind is duly represented by his hopeful thematic subjects among others including a family, baby, old man, a blind man, and prisoner locked in a cell as well as the artist himself in signed impressions, several of which are seen here.
The original 1925 cover maquette linoleum cut by Gondor, featuring the aforementioned figure with outstretched arms, has the hopeful title Sehnsucht nach Licht . (Yearning for Light) Featuring eight original linoleum cuts with the themes outlined above, the work is not believed to have been published other than several copies, although seven of the eight plates as well as the maquette can be found here on this website as well as the full compliment and other examples of Gondor’s artwork from his career at the Baeck Institute online site.
Sobering, but Necessary
Eventually, Gondor’s talents paid off. Besides honed artistic chops, abundant energy, charisma and a sunny disposition as evidenced by his ever-present smile seen in surviving photographs, he attained the title of Art Director for the Ullstein Verlag publishing house of Berlin, the largest concern in Europe. But then in 1933, the Nazis came, he wrote in the 1936 PM profile, and everything changed and was lost. In September of 1935, Gondor’s former editor Hartmuth Merleker of the Ullstein newspapers Tempo and Berliner Montagspost wrote a glowing review of his talents which spoke of this fine character giving him the needed credibility in the eyes of German authorities and the right to emigrate for his new life in America:
”He worked mainly as comic and propaganda artist and as a theater photographer and absolved himself to everyone’s satisfaction. He tactfully refrained from attending any non-artistic, non-photographic activities, and as a Hungarian citizen was never known to abuse the right to hospitality he enjoyed in Germany to Germany’s disadvantage.” (5.)
Sobering in hindsight of course. What true artist in their own mind could “tactfully refrain from “any non-artistic, non-photographic activities” during the course of his or her work? Fortunately for us, Emery Gondor had a bit of luck going his way as well, with earlier examples of his artistic legacy preserved here for posterity and later career achievements benefiting those children he helped and inspired a testament to the abundant light emanating from his own oversized heart and soul.
David Spencer- October, 2015
1. background: Emery Gondor: Biographical/Historical Note: from: Emery I. Gondor Collection: Leo Baeck Institute online archive accessed Oct. 2015. In Gondor’s 1954 application to publisher Doubleday for his book Art and Play Therapy published the same year, it stated he “is a sensitive clinician of long and varied experience. Early in his career he had no intention of becoming a psychologist or psychotherapist, but began as an artist and teacher of art after attending the Royal Hungarian University and receiving his diplomas from the Federal Academy of Art in Budapest. As a young art teacher, however, he was faced with the misery of children who suffered tremendously during and after the first World War, and felt that he had to understand more about their problems in order to be able to help them. Thus began his interest in the study of psychology.”
2. PM: 1936: Mr. Gondor comes to America: p. 7
3. Germinal, a quarto monthly ran for two issues in July, 1923 and one other unknown issue published in 1924. “This illustrated journal published fiction by Gorky, drama by Ernest Toller, poetry by Alexander Blok, by Anna Akhmatova and by Pankhurst.” see: Morag Shiach: Modernism, Labour and Selfhood in British Literature and Culture, 1890-1930: Sylvia Pankhurst: labour and representation: 2004: p. 103
4. see: The Germinal Circle: Leo Baeck Institute Archives: New York: Folder 1/16: Call number AR 25397
5. translated, hand-written copy of Sept 7, 1935 letter by editor Hartmuth Merleker contained in Leo Baeck Institute online archives.
Posted August 2015 in Hand Cameras
Presenting a Summer idyll on the River Thames.
Posted July 2015 in Childhood Photography, New Additions
Posted May 2015 in Alternate Processes, History of Photography, Scientific Photography
Spring, that time of rebirth for the temperate regions of the world, is thankfully showing itself off again. With new growth on trees, flowers showing off and the lingering sweet smells of airborne pollen, these are but a few signs of the season.
As children, our very first “photographs” joyously executed in winter climes would have taken the form of angelic impressions left in the newly fallen snow, or tropical: designs left on sandy seashores.
Our very own Pencils of Nature.
An impression of ourselves for sure, but also quickly obliterated-or not, like nature herself. Photography in this form has in a way been part of Earth’s plant and animal fossil record stretching back millions of years, with Mankind’s permanent efforts barely stretching back to the early 19th Century.
Enjoy this gallery of images celebrating the beauty of flora. From original Nature Prints ca. 1775-1825: dried leaves impressed into damp paper after being hand-coated with carbon from a candle or oil lamp; to mosaic red flowers adorning the head of a Roman goddess imagined by an artist around 250 A.D. transcribed and copied by the radical Talbotype process and published in 1850; to delicate British seaweeds copied into lead and printed 1859-60 to modern examples still nearly a century old: six silhouetted jewels ca. 1925 from the time photographic hobbyists gazed in wonderment at their first efforts emerging from developer trays in home darkrooms.
Posted April 2015 in History of Photography, New Additions, Typography
In the public consciousness at least, Hawaii has probably not changed too much in the past 100 years. By this I mean an island chain of magnificent tropical beauty, mystery, and earthly delights with a strong emphasis on the natural world being the preferred vision for this place for many of us; with the realities of crime, squalor and all the other maladies undoubtedly present on some scale cast aside for the sake of bliss. You see, in this chaotic world, people need and want to believe utopia by the name Hawaii must exist.
Photographer Alfred Richard Gurrey Jr. believed in that place. A Hawaiian transplant from San Francisco at the turn of the 20th Century, his beautiful photographs of the islands included in the self-published book Idyls of Hawaii ca. 1910-1920 now on this website is aptly titled, even if idyll is now spelled with two ls in the 21st. A truly renaissance man of the arts, his vision of beauty for a place we may never visit but hope to someday cannot help but give us all the hope we need in this hectic and often indifferent world- one where the idea of Hawaii can always be within reach. -David Spencer
Want to see more of this special place from long ago? click here