Posted July 2014 in History of Photography, Scientific Photography, Significant Photographs
Walt Whitman certainly did. Just check out his eyeballs on this photograph taken in 1887 by George C. Cox for confirmation. Especially on this most personal of American holidays, the Fourth of July, the continuing birthday idea of our messy, evolving experiment of a democratic republic called the United States can never be said to be boring.
Need proof of his vision? - Whitman’s metaphorical call in this famous quote: “What is that you express in your eyes?” ; and response: “It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.”
You could say America’s poet (1819-1892) of the everyman didn’t need a camera, he was one. His genius of observation, something all great photographers possess, gave him the power to indelibly express his convictions. So when words flowed from his pen, they possessed the power of photographs, especially on the very idea of America in the aftermath of the Civil War:
from Leaves of Grass: intro to “Thoughts”:
Of these years I sing,
How they pass and have pass’d through convuls’d pains, as
How America illustrates birth, muscular youth, the promise, the
sure fulfilment, the absolute success, despite of people-
illustrates evil as well as good,
The vehement struggle so fierce for unity in one’s-self;
How many hold despairingly yet to the models departed, caste,
myths obedience, compulsion, and to infidelity, … (1.)
But enough of the history lesson. Since most of us will never rise to the level of a Whitman in prose, photography as an art form is a comparably easy stretch. Speaking for myself as a young newspaper photographer in the mid 1980’s hunched over a light table editing film, an early mentor told me as long as a person’s eyes in the negative were tack sharp through the loupe, it was a “keeper”, and worthy of publication.
And so it was for my colleagues a century before my own light table revelation, but with the slow, fragile dry plates in use at the time a much greater technical challenge. In 1887, New York portrait photographer George Collins Cox (1851-1902) had the sitting of a lifetime in none other than Whitman. Strolling into his New York studio with oversized fedora, it was 22 years to the day no less on April 15th when American president Abraham Lincoln finally succumbed to an assassin’s bullet in 1865.
And he nailed it, as they say in America. Eyes tack sharp. The following historical account of the Whitman portrait sitting from the Charles E. Feinberg Collection at the Library of Congress gives a nice working account of Cox the photographer in action. A result of that session: the “Laughing Philosopher”, was the title Whitman declared as his favorite:
”On the morning of April 15th, 1887, George Cox took several photographs of Whitman, who was celebrating the success of his New York lecture on Lincoln, delivered the day before. Whitman recalls that “six or seven” photos were made during the session, but Whitman’s friend Jeannette Gilder, an observer of the session, said there were many more than that: ‘He must have had twenty pictures taken, yet he never posed for a moment. He simply sat in the big revolving chair and swung himself to the right or to the left, as Mr. Cox directed, or took his hat off or put it on again, his expression and attitude remaining so natural that no one would have supposed he was sitting for a photograph.“ (2.)
1. from “Thoughts” Leaves of Grass II: The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman: New York:1902: Henry W. Knight, publisher: National (limited) Edition: p. 275
2. excerpt: Walt Whitman Archive online resource accessed July, 2014
Posted June 2014 in New Additions, Unknown Photographs
Sometimes, scratching your head does make sense. Especially when encountering a photograph such as this. I wish I could elaborate beyond my first instinct, which is that the subject resembles some kind of shrunken head with an extremely bad hair day.
However, on close inspection, it might actually appear to be some kind of Asian mask, dressed in what appear to be elaborate silk garments. But these are only guesses. This very fine tissue gravure printed on a thin sheet of Japan laid paper was purchased for this archive from a dealer based in Warwickshire, England in the Fall of 2012. It was purchased at the same time by a lovely pictorialist study that I’ve titled Agnes, which can be seen here.
Does anyone have clues as to the actual subject matter and or author responsible for this mysterious photograph?
Posted March 2014 in Composition, History of Photography, Significant Photographs
When evaluating the chiaroscuro masterpiece Campo San Margherita by James Craig Annan, a striking vertical composition taken in 1894 during his visit to the Campo San Margherita piazza in Venice-an outdoor market and tourist destination still popular today- the idea of Modernism, a decidedly 20th Century school as applied to the photographic arts, should be taken seriously considering the intent and evidence posed by this finished work.
Documentary, cubist in form and radically pictorial for its time, this slice of life study showing the interaction of a market vendor and customer can be dissected for compositional posterity with the intent a post-mortem of sorts by this reviewer is reason enough when re-considering the historical record of early photographic aesthetics.
First off, Scotsman Annan was a master engraver and pioneer of the hand-pulled photogravure, an intaglio process similar to etching, but with the matrix of a photographic negative “from life” doing the stand-in for the artists brush or pencil. With this control afforded, the photographic results transferred to a copper plate could be altered at will depending on artistic intent, giving Annan the ability to subtly control and change aspects of his composition after he took the initial exposure by camera.
Arbitrarily beginning at the bottom of the frame, a subtle flow begins to develop reaching near the top of this composition. Here we see the Campo San Margherita title, with letters spanning the entire width of the vertical composition placed in its own compartmentalized box serving as anchor to the entire work.
From here, the eye travels upwards. With an engraver’s burin, Annan deliberately alters a portion of highlighted marketplace cobblestones to a shaded version- the result being complimentary, contrasting diagonals now taking residence within the dead-zone of space created by his decision to present the work as an extreme vertical composition from the outset.
This in turn brings us to the very center of the frame. Without reading too much into it, the scale itself is the perfect symbol for what Annan achieves in this area we are most interested in visually. Holding it out while weighing a marketplace purchase for his customer opposite, the vendor’s action gives credibility to the idea a kind of balance has been created and achieved at the very center of the frame, especially after she conveniently stoops to his same level while contemplating the purchase.
The rest of the frame serving as backdrop to this drama in the middle compliments everything else within in, but with a twist. Instead of a purely static presentation of a lone moment occurring in the marketplace, the hat-wearing gentleman walking directly behind the vendor preparing to bust out of the frame gives a refreshing jolt to the work. Annan’s inclusion of this other action reminds us the marketplace bustles with life.
Finally, the central part of the background: a large shaded alleyway dividing two separate buildings anchoring the entire left and right margins of the frame, neatly compliments the balance of the two windows seen behind the man wearing the hat. Here, the area of the arched window frame in the top left of the composition reaches upwards to its natural conclusion: another area of naturally shaded discoloration similar in tone and effect Annan manipulated for the bottom third of the frame.
But this is just one opinion, albeit from someone who has spent a lifetime constructing and deconstructing photographs. Hopefully, this insight into one singular example of Annan’s art might give others the chance to see his motives and intent for what they are: a strong example of photographic Modernism ahead of his time.
Posted March 2014 in New Additions, Photography
Besides the obvious: a permanent, for the most part, result in the form of a photograph; the act of taking said photograph could be argued as being just as important. For some, it really is the point.
Can I take your picture? Why sure. Why would you be interested may I ask? Because…
I find you: insert adjective here. Or don’t ask permission.
Because. No real reason at all, other than it sorta confirms your existence for posterity. So not a bad tradeoff, especially for those who might want to look back, far off in the future, or five minutes from now.
Going back well over a century, this series of photographs is confirmation act has always been wrapped up in art. For proof, observe the capable body language of voiceless French actress Félicia Mallet, (1863–1928) published in 1896 and recently posted. As Pierrot, she was taking on the role modern scholars consider the essence of the artist’s alter-ego. Especially as some might consider: “the famously alienated artist of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” (1.)
But the inherently silent results recorded by French photographer Arthur da Cunha here are besides the point. A live performance will always elicit a critic, particularly one on the public stage.
In a fortunate coincidence, no less an observer than George Bernard Shaw weighed in a year later, his take on Mallet’s performance during the London stage production of A Pierrot’s Life giving readers the opinion her Pierrot was far more believable than one played by (Mrs.) Signora Litini:
The recasting of “A Pierrot’s Life” at the matinees at the Prince of Wales’ Theatre greatly increases and solidifies the attraction of the piece. Felicia Mallet now plays Pierrot; but we can still hang on the upturned nose of the irresistible Litini, who reappears as Fifine. Litini was certainly a charming Pierrot; but the delicate, subtle charm was an intensely feminine one, and only incorporated itself dreamily with the drama in the tender shyness of the first act and the pathos of the last. Litini as a vulgar drunkard and gambler was as fantastically impossible as an angel at a horse-race. Felicia Mallet is much more credible, much more realistic, and therefore much more intelligible — also much less slim, and not quite so youthful. Litini was like a dissolute “La Sylphide”: Mallet is frankly and heartily like a scion of the very smallest bourgeoisie sowing his wild oats. She is a good observer, a smart executant, and a vigorous and sympathetic actress, apparently quite indifferent to romantic charm, and intent only on the dramatic interest, realistic illusion, and comic force of her work. And she avoids the conventional gesture-code of academic Italian pantomime, depending on popularly graphic methods throughout. The result is that the piece is now much fuller of incident, much more exciting in the second act (hitherto the weak point) and much more vivid than before. (2.)
1. Pierrot: see: Wikipedia overview: accessed, March, 2014
2. excerpt: Meredith on Comedy: An Essay on Comedy. By George Meredith. Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co. 1897: from: Dramatic Opinions and Essays by G. Bernard Shaw/(James Huneker): Volume 2: New York: Brentanos: 1906: pp. 225-6
Posted January 2014 in Exhibitions, History of Photography, Significant Photographers
Subversive and unwilling to play by the rules. This is why the body of work produced by British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879) should still matter to us today.
How can one not admire the intent and courage it must have taken her to focus a camera lens in the era of wet plate photography (1860s-1870s) and then, just as often as not, deliberately have the mischievous bent to throw that lens slightly out of focus in order to create photographs often resembling the feelings found in dreams? Photographs that justifiably draw admiration and discussion even today of the lives of Victorian celebrities and house servants who were convinced to sit or be dragged in front of that camera.
For those inclined to learn the mysterious ingredient-and staying power so to speak-of Cameron’s photography-the answer might be a single word: “beauty”. This might indeed be the key, a Citizen Kane, Rosebud moment if you will, the one final word she reportedly uttered on her deathbed.
Beauty, and a renewed appreciation is what I took away from a visit late last year to a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art simply titled “Julia Margaret Cameron”.
Surprisingly, it was first devoted solely to her work at the museum, a tightly edited overview comprised of 38 works, including several by her contemporaries: David Wilkie Wynfield, William Frederick Lake Price, and Oscar Gustav Rejlander.
The wall copy set the stage for those not already familiar with Cameron, describing her rightly as:
”One of the greatest portraitists in the history of photography—indeed in any medium“…
A further explanatory statement in her own words followed:
”From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour,” she wrote, “and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour.”
Words that no doubt have influenced scores of photographers, painters and others working in various artistic disciplines during the many decades since her passing. An important early tribute came in the lifetime of Cameron’s youngest son Henry Herschel Hay Cameron. (1852-1911) Inspired no doubt by his mother’s art, he was a working photographer who maintained a London studio, and provided the Introduction as well as a series of complimentary portraits paired with those by his mother for the folio volume Alfred, Lord Tennyson and his Friends. This series of 25 large-plate photogravures along with letterpress was published in a limited edition in 1893.
Other notable remembrances of Cameron’s work appeared earlier and much later. In 1891, the English publication Sun Artists featured four of her photographs: Sir John Herschel, Alfred Lord Tennyson and the allegorical works The Day Dream and The Kiss of Peace. All large-plate gravures for the 5th issue.
For Camera Work 41 published in 1913, editor Alfred Stieglitz presented five plates of Cameron’s work published as tissue gravures: two of Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, portraits of English polymath John Herschel and Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim and an allegorical study of English Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry taken done in 1864 when she was 16 originally titled “Sadness”.
Later in the British Number of the short-lived publication Platinum Print published in Feb. 1915, American photographer Clarence White’s essay titled Old Masters in Photography lauded Cameron as an early influence, singling out her photograph he most likely saw in an 1891 issue of Sun and Shade titled the Dalmatian Maid.
This portrait of Christina Spartali, a neighbor of Cameron on the Isle of Wight who was most certainly not a maid, as her family had made their fortune from the cotton trade and her father was Consul-General for Greece, was taken in 1868. White observed:
”While some questions have been raised as to the influence these workers have had on those of today, for my own part I must confess an influence on my work inspired by Mrs. Cameron’s “Dalmatian Maid,” a copy of which I saw in the days of my early efforts.” (p.4)
Although ended, photographs from the Cameron show at the Met can still be viewed in digital form, along with an ambitious project devoted to her and other notable photographers now ongoing on behalf of the rich photographic collection held by the Royal Photographic Society at the National Media Museum in Bradford, England.
Other treasures await additional scholarship. For our part, PhotoSeed presents with this post a seldom-seen work by Cameron formerly owned by Peter Hukill, (1927-2003) an early collector of fine art photography who built a collection thanks to the early efforts of galleries including the former Robert Schoelkopf Gallery in New York City, the records of which now reside in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
Prescient, and subversive indeed. The Schoelkopf Gallery was apparently one of the first to feature photography as fine art in the United States. In 1967, it had the distinction of mounting the last solo show of Cameron’s work before the Met’s which opened in 2013: “timing it to coincide with a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that focused on Cameron as one of four Victorian photographers.” (1.)
1. excerpt: Robert Schoelkopf Gallery records, 1851-1991: Smithsonian Archives of American Art online resource: “In its early years the Robert Schoelkopf Gallery contributed considerably to the development of interest in fine art photography that fostered an increasingly lucrative market for photographic prints during the 1960s and 1970s.”
Posted January 2014 in New Additions
A curious photograph entered this archive last year, and with the debut of a new season of Downton Abbey upon us here in the States, I thought it important to pay homage to those women who made English Service, from circa 1917, the noble effort it was.
Posted January 2014 in New Additions, PhotoSeed, Significant Photographs
Posted December 2013 in Publishing
Posted April 2013 in Photographic Postcards, Publishing, Texts
Beyond the Tweets, texts and messaging saturating our present-day social media culture-recently extending even to software giving a smartphone user the ability to view a photograph just once before it disappears into the ether forever, (Snapchat et al apps) the endurance, value and cultural importance of the printed word and photograph need be considered-indeed marveled at-for the historical record and of course for posterity itself.
Consider today’s example, a postcard featuring an original cyanotype photograph of a well-dressed gentleman reading a newspaper. Addressed and posted to Harold A. Buffington of Littleton, New Hampshire in October, 1906, (1.) this simple and lasting form of communication is signed “Papa”, (2.) with the suggestion for his son to come over on Sunday for a visit in order to enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie.
Before getting to the nut graph as they say in newspaper lingo, “Papa”: aka Arthur W. Buffington, (b. 1868) begins his correspondence with a quote from a well known (at least for its time) story celebrating the importance of small town rags everywhere. It might not be surprising given his listed occupation as a printer for the 1900 U.S. Census. Owner of the Buffington Press in Littleton during this period, (they printed cookbooks among other volumes) he writes on the postcard:
The Little Country Paper
It tells of all the parties an’ the balls of Pumpkin Row ‘Bout who’s spent Sunday with who’s girl, an’ how the crops’ll grow. An’ how it keeps a feller posted ‘bout who’s up and who’s down. That little country paper from his ol’ Home Town.
This entire “story” seems to have originated around 1903 or before by someone writing for the Denver Post newspaper in Colorado. I’ve taken the liberty to include it in its entirety at the end of this post (as it originally appeared) along with another similarly titled “story” I discovered from the era . And the juicy part? “Papa” writes:
Come down Sunday. Mamma has made a whole pumpkin pie and I have only had one piece out of it. (you can divide your piece with L. O and mamma and Ray don’t like punkin very well!) Papa.
In addition to the slice of pie he presumably ate, the postcard might have even inspired Harold Buffington to get ink in his blood like his father, for he is listed in the 1940 U.S. Census as a printer for the Courier office, still known today as the Littleton Courier, a weekly newspaper published since 1889.
The Little Country Paper
When the evenin’ shades is fallin’ at the endin’ o’ the day,
An’ a feller rests from labor, smokin’ at his pipe o’ clay.
There’s nothin’ does him so much good, be fortune up or down,
As the little country paper from his O’l Home Town.
It ain’t a thing o’ beauty an’ its print ain’t always clean. But it straightens out his temper when a feller’s feelin’ mean. It takes the wrinkles off his face an’ brushes off the frown. That little country paper from his Ol’ Home Town.
It tells of all the parties an’ the balls of Pumpkin Row. ‘Bout who spent Sunday with who’s girl an’ how th’ crops’ll grow. An’ how it keeps a feller posted ‘bout who’s up an’ who is down. That little country paper from his O’l Home Town.
Now, I like to read the dailies an’ the story papers too. An’ at times the yaller novels an’ some other trash—don’t you? But when I want some readin’ that’ll brush away a frown I want that little paper from my O’l Home Town. (3.)
The following with the same title originated in the Baltimore (MD) American newspaper in 1900 or before, and may have inspired the Denver Post account of The Little Country Paper:
The Little Country Paper
It’s just a little paper-it isn’t up to date:
It hasn’t any supplement or colored fashion plate.
It comes out every Friday, unless the forms are pied;
The outside is home printed, with boiler-plate inside.
It hasn’t any cable direct from old Bombay,
But it says that “Colonel Braggins is in our midst to-day.”
It doesn’t seem to worry about affairs of state.
But tells that “Joseph Hawkins has painted his front gate.”
It never mentions Kruger or Joseph Chamberlain.
But says that “Thompson’s grocery has a new window pane.”
And that “the Mission Workers will give a festival.
And there’ll be a temperance lecture in William Hooper’s hall.”
It tells about the measles that Jimmy Hankins had.
And says that Israel Johnson “has become a happy dad.”
It says that “cider-making is shortly to commence.”
And cites the fact that Ira Todd is building a new fence.
It mentions Dewey’s coming in one brief paragraph, And says that “Charlie Trimble has sold a yearling calf.” And everything that happens within that little town The man who runs the paper has plainly jotted down.
Some people make fun of it, but, honestly, I like To learn that “work is booming upon the Jimtown pike.”
It’s just a little paper—it hasn’t much to say—
But as long as it is printed I hope it comes my way. (4.)
1. It is believed the gentleman in the cyanotype photograph reading the newspaper is also the recipient of the postcard: Harold A. Buffington, a student who would have been 20 years old in 1906. (b.: September 12, 1886 | d. March, 1976. source: Crestleaf)
2. “Papa” was Arthur W. Buffington (b. 1868) who lived in Lisbon, New Hampshire at the time he mailed this postcard
3. The Little Country Paper: Denver Post: reprinted in the Mansfield (OH) News: Saturday, October 24, 1903
4. Newspaper Verse: Selections Grave and Gay: Current Literature-A Magazine of Record and Review: New York: Vol. XXVIII: April-June, 1900: pp. 192-93
Posted April 2013 in Advertising, Childhood Photography, Exhibitions
The 1905 Kodak Competition | Exhibition & Kodak Advertising Contests
The cryptic title of this post owes a debt to advertising. Seeing an opportunity to redefine their annual photographic contest for 1905 by marketing products to all kinds of photographers, the Eastman Kodak Company decided to embrace the two distinct schools of the period.
The so-called “straight” shooters, whose intent was a picture sharply in focus and the “pictorialists”; those embracing the painterly concept of selective focus in their work.
This inclusivity was emphasized after the company announced criteria for their selection of judges for the 1905 contest:
In the selection of a jury we have had two important points in mind. First, the selection of gentleman of high standing and unquestioned competency. Second, the selection of gentlemen affiliated with neither of the warring factions ⎯men who are broad-minded enough to recognize merit where it exists in a picture, no matter whether that picture be as sharp as a needle or as woolly as Mary’s little lamb. (1.)
Rhetoric aside, these judges certainly had artistic ambitions. They were:
Charles Berg: (1856-1926) studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and London, opening an architectural practice in New York City in 1880, and later designing one of the city’s earliest skyscrapers, the Gillender Building. In 1896 he became a founding member of the Camera Club of New York, and his amateur work reflected his classical training-classically draped models often surrounded by architectural elements.
Arthur Radclyffe Dugmore: (1870-1955) at the time of the 1905 contest a pioneering nature photographer, he had the distinction in 1903 of one of his photographs, “A Study in Natural History”, a photogravure of baby birds, appearing in the first issue of Camera Work I. He later became a recognized painter and printmaker.
Henry Troth: (1863-1948) was an active member of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia, a pioneering artistic photography society in the United States. A professional photographer specializing in genre and the natural world, his work appeared in magazines and volume compilations of poetry and verse, often uncredited, such as Poetry of Nature. (1909)
In late 1904, Kodak announced they would break down and eliminate what they felt had been barriers for amateurs and professionals alike in regard to photographic contests up to that period:
A drawback to previous competitions has been the fact that many amateurs felt it useless to compete against their more experienced brothers while not a few of those who have become famous as photographers have been afraid to enter lest they might be awarded a forty-ninth prize and see, in the photographic publications, their famous names at the foot of a list of unknowns.
The terms of the 1905 Kodak Competition overcomes both of these difficulties. It provides separate classes for the novice and for those who have hitherto been successful and then bunches the prizes below fifth so that all such awards will be simply “Honorable Mention” together with a substantial prize. (2.)
A true marketing ploy, the company also made sure there would be plenty of time for those contemplating a submission for the contest. In America, entrants had up to November 1st to enter and in England, a month earlier, although this was changed to a later date to accommodate the mailing of the large amount of submissions, which totaled 28,000 entries worldwide. Particulars for the contest were printed in multiple publications, including the January 1905 issue of Camera & Dark-Room:
The 1905 Kodak Competition.
We have pleasure in announcing that another great picture competition is to take place during the year. The Eastman Kodak Company offer $2,000 in prizes and have arranged for two classes of competitors, “Open” and “Novice.” The “open” class is for all who may care to enter, but the “novice” is open only to amateurs who have never won a prize in a photographic contest. This is a feature which will greatly please many who do good work but who do not care to compete against the regular pot hunters.
The classes and conditions are as follows:
Class A. Open to all. For Kodak pictures 3 ¼ x 4 ¼ or larger, including the Panoram Kodaks.
Class B. Open to all. For Kodak pictures 3 ½ x 3 ½ or smaller, including No. 1A Folding Pocket Kodak.
Class C. Open to all. For enlargements of any size from Kodak or Brownie negatives on Eastman. Nepera or Photo-Materials Bromide Paper.
Class D. Novice. Open only to amateurs who have never been awarded a prize in a photographic contest. For Kodak pictures 3 ¼ x 4 ¼ or larger, including the Panoram Kodaks.
Class E. Novice. Open only to amateurs who have never been awarded a prize in a photographic contest. For Kodak pictures 3 ½ x 3 ½ or smaller, including No. 1A Folding Pocket Kodak.
Class F. Novice. Open only to amateurs who have never been awarded a prize in a photographic contest. For Brownie pictures only.
All pictures sent in for competition must be from negatives made with a Kodak or Brownie on Kodak N. C. Film, and must be printed on papers manufactured or sold by us.
PRINTS ONLY are to be sent in; not negatives.
Prints must be mounted, but not framed.
The title of the picture, with the name and address of the competitor, class entered for, and the name of the printing paper used for the pictures, must be legibly written on the back of mount.
The films must have been exposed by the competitor, but it is not necessary that competitors finish their own pictures.
No competitor will be awarded more than one prize in a class.
Not more than one prize will be awarded to prints from one negative, except that all Velox Prints will be considered In the awarding of the Special Velox Prizes regardless of the prizes said prints may have received in the other classes.
Contact prints from the same negative cannot be entered in two classes.
This contest closes at Rochester. N. Y., on November 1, 1905; at Toronto. Canada, on October 20, 1905. and at London, Eng., on October 1, 1905.
All entries sent in from the United States and the possessions thereof and from South America should be addressed to EASTMAN KODAK CO..
Kodak Contest Dep’t. Rochester, N. Y. (3.)
History of Kodak Competitions
Little scholarship seems to have been spent on the annual photographic competitions which in turn lead to public exhibitions sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company in the early years of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Besides accomplishing the desired result of brand recognition, they are undoubtedly a rich resource for understanding the changing aesthetic trends for primarily amateur photography during this period.
Of the resulting exhibition which the 1905 competition spawned, a Photographic Times editor provided an overview but also gave it a veiled endorsement after it closed at Madison Square Garden Concert Hall in New York City in November, 1906:
While the Kodak Exhibition is prompted by commercial interests and is for the purpose of advertising the products of the Eastman Kodak Company, yet so skillfully is this concealed that each visitor comes away feeling indebted to the company.
In 1897, one of the very first Kodak international competitions originated in England, which lead to a show known as the Eastman Photographic Exhibition.
Held at the New Gallery on Regent Street in London from October 27 to November 16, 1897, the exhibit drew 25,000 photographic entries from around the world, with $3000.00 in prize money. It was organized by amateur photographer George Davison, (1856-1930) a founding member of the British Linked Ring and Director of the Eastman Photographic Materials Company in England. In America, these annual competitions were promoted by Kodak advertising department manager Lewis Bunnell Jones. And with the known exception of the 1897 show traveling to America in 1898 where it was enlarged and displayed at The National Academy of Design in New York City in January, Jones’ hand became more evident beginning in 1905. At least five years of public exhibitions beginning in 1906, of which the Kodak Competition Souvenir of 1905 is one of the finest records of, was the result:
Under Jones’s autocratic supervision, Kodak’s advertising department devised some of the company’s most legendary campaigns and strategies, including the 1893 introduction of the Kodak Girl in magazine ads and posters; the Traveling Kodak Exhibitions that toured the country between 1905 and 1910; the famous “yellow box” packaging in 1905… “(4.)
Records from primary source material shed light on these competitions, which beginning in 1907 began to be annually known as the Kodak Advertising Contests:
Book of the £1,000 Kodak Exhibition.
This is the title, stamped in gold, on the cover of a handsome portfolio just issued by the Kodak Press. “To show something of the work that is being accomplished in pictorial photography by the devotees of the Kodak system.” The world-wide interest in the Kodak competition of 1904 naturally brought together much of the best work of the camera and the public exhibition of the competing pictures in London was an eye-opener to all who could attend. From this exhibition sixty or more prints were selected and have been reproduced in half-tone, which will enable photographers in the most remote localities to see the work of others and note the kind and quality of the work which finds favor with competition judges. (5.)
And from The Photographic Times:
A detailed report of the results of the £1,000 Kodak Competition has been received in this country, and the results cannot but prove gratifying to those who take an interest in the advancement of American photography. There were something over 20,000 entries received, of which about 12,000 were from the British Isles, 2,500 from France, 2,000 from the United States, 1,700 from Germany and 2,000 scattering. The British Isles received 229 prizes, the United States 85 prizes, France 28 and Germany 12. It will thus be seen that the British exhibitors received one prize to every 52 entries, the French one to every 89, the German one to every 141 and the American one to every 23 entries. Our American amateurs, in proportion to their entries, carried off over twice as much as their British cousins, three and a half times as much as the French competitors and did six times as well as the Germans—at least such was the opinion of the British judges who were no less personages than Sir William Abney, Mr. Craig Annan and Mr. Frank Sutcliffe. (6.)
The subject of this post concerns the 1905 Kodak Competition, which concluded the following year in 1906 with public exhibitions in America as well as London, England in 1907.
The 1907 Advertising Contest of the Eastman Kodak Company possessed a far greater value than the securing of good pictures for use in advertising the products of the Eastman Company. Its value from an educational and artistic standpoint is exceedingly great, and of inestimable value to all photographers and illustrators who use other methods than photography. The results of this competition were a revelation as to the possibilities of graphic illustration by means of the camera when handled understandingly.
The pictures possess human interest far surpassing anything that could have been drawn or painted, for the subjects were real live people, and not the imaginative creations of some artistic brain. Such pictures grasp and hold the interest of the reader and, when their story is pleasingly told, are most convincing.
Glance over the advertising section of any of the popular magazines, and see how important a part the camera plays in illustrating and in pictorially clinching the advertiser’s argument. In many instances, the picture has been that of some charming bit of femininity and used often only to hold the attention in order that the accompanying text might be read. (7.)
In 1908, the Eastman Kodak Company sponsored an advertising contest for professional as well as amateur photographers. $1600.00 was offered as cash prizes. Winning submissions would be used to advertise Kodak products. Mrs. W.W. Pearce, an active woman amateur photographer from Waukegan, IL, won first prize and $300.00 in the Class B Amateur class of the contest. The PhotoSeed Archive owns a vintage example of this winning print, and more background on the contest and results from 1908 can be found here.
The contention that better pictures for advertising purposes could be produced by means of photography than by any other artistic method has been still further justified by the result of the 1909 Kodak Advertising Contest.
It is gratifying to note the continued interest of competitors in former contests, and also in highly artistic work submitted by newcomers in the field.
The jury which passed on the work was highly competent, consisting of Mr. Rudolph Eickemeyer, of Davis & Eickemeyer; Mr. A. F. Bradley, ex president of the P. P. S. of New York; Mr. Henry D. Wilson, advertising manager of Cosmopolitan; Mr. C. C. Vernam, general manager of the Smith & Street publications, and Mr. Walter R. Hine, vice-president and general manager of Frank Seaman, Incorporated, one of the largest, if not the largest advertising agency in the United States. Mr. Frank R. Barrows, president of the P. A. of A., was announced as one of the judges, but was unavoidably detained, Mr. Bradley acting in his place. (8.)
THE Eastman Kodak Company, always a most generous patron of photographers, both professional and amateur, has just closed its advertising competition for 1910. This contest has become one of the most important fixtures of the photographic world, not only because of the remarkably large cash prizes awarded, but also because of the tremendous stimulus it has been to the application of photography to advertising. Photo-era has many times called attention to the increasing use of photographs by the general advertiser, and one has only to pick up almost any of the popular magazines and glance at the advertising pages (more interesting, oftentimes, than the body of the letter-press) to see how greatly the ad-writer depends on the halftone cut from a photograph to present his goods in an attractive manner. In this development, beyond question, the Eastman Company has had a large share, and the successful contestants in its contests have gained valuable experience which they can apply with profit, should they so desire, to photographic illustration-work. (9.)
From our standpoint the previous Kodak Advertising Contests have been a distinct and growing success. They have supplied us with pictures that told interestingly of the charm and simplicity of Kodakery. But there has been one drawback. In the professional division (Class A), the prizes have gone so often to the same people that we fear other photographers are likely to be discouraged. In order to remove this possible objection to our contests, these former winners will be barred from participation in Class A in the 1911 competition. (10.)
1913 Kodak Advertising Contest — $3,000.00 In Cash Prizes.— The Kodak Advertising Contests are not for the purpose of securing sample prints. They are for the purpose of securing illustrations to be used in our magazine advertising, for street car cards, for booklet covers and the like.
We prefer photographs to paintings, not only because they are more real, but also because it seems particularly fit that photographs should be used in preference to drawings in advertising the photographic business. The successful pictures are those that suggest the pleasures that are to be derived from the use of the kodak, or the simplicity of the kodak system of photography — pictures around which the advertising man can write a simple and convincing story. Of course the subject is an old one — therefore the more value in the picture that tells the old story in a new way. Originality, simplicity, interest, beauty—and with these good technique —are all qualities that appeal to the judges.
In addition to the prize pictures we often purchase several of the less successful pictures for future use in our advertising. So it will be seen that in reality our prize money is even bigger than we advertise.
There is a big future for the camera in the illustrative field. There’s a growing use of photographs in magazine and book illustrations, to say nothing of the rapid advance along the same lines in advertising work. There’s a constant demand for pictures that are full of human interest. Such are the pictures that we need, that others need. The Kodak Advertising Contests offer an opportunity for your entry into this growing field of photographic work. (11.)
The 1905 Competition might certainly be considered key in launching the careers of many serious amateurs, and it undoubtedly gave others the opportunity to pursue photography professionally as a career:
The Kodak Competitions which have been held during the past six or seven years have been something of a revelation in that they have shown that a very large proportion of those amateurs who take photography seriously are frequent users of the Kodak. The same names that appear as Salon Exhibitors have appeared in the Kodak prize lists and often times the pictures that have hung on the Salon walls were from the same negative that won cash and honor in the Kodak competition. (12.)
Doing the Rest
Similar to celebrity endorsement today, Kodak had the uncanny ability to associate the big photographic names of the early 20th century; including Stieglitz, Steichen and Brigman, with the idea amateur photographers using their products could become as skilled or famous. The often mocked Kodak mantra of “you press the button and we do the rest”-acknowledged even by someone as famous as Stieglitz himself -is ironically shot down when it is learned Kodak made the enlarged prints from competitor’s negatives for exhibition purposes for the 1905 competition and those following it:
THE Kodak Exhibition, at No. 40, Strand, W.C, will come as a surprise to persons who are only accustomed to the ordinary enlargements of prize-winning photographs which are displayed in dealers’ windows; it will come as a decided shock to those who are wont to ridicule the “you press the button, and we do the rest” method of photography. Out of some twenty-eight thousand prints and enlargements which were submitted to the judges at the latest Kodak competition, some sixty were adjudged prizes varying from one to thirty pounds; and the negatives of these prints, which have become the property of the Kodak Company, have been enlarged into huge enlargements at the Kodak works, and are now on view for all to see.
There are many well-known names amongst the prizewinners—Steichen, Stieglitz, Harold Baker, Mrs. Barton, Miss Annie Brigman—but these only made the exposures and developed the negatives, Kodak has done the rest, and, as a rule, Kodak has done it uncommonly well. It is not, of course, to be imagined that the Company’s enlargements of negatives by such individual workers as Steichen and Stieglitz are similar to the results that these men would have themselves obtained, but the wonder is that the work has been done so well. The enlargements of Stieglitz’s negatives are particularly good, especially that of “Soap Bubbles,” No. 7, in which the feeling of light and atmosphere has been successfully maintained; and those subjects in which the figures are lit from behind, and, so to speak, silhouetted against the light, are not easy to handle. …
In considering the question of the awards, two facts must be borne in mind: in the first place, the judges in this particular competition belonged to the American school of photography, and the present tendency of this school is to ascribe great merit to original and beautiful schemes of natural outdoor lighting; and therefore we find Steichen’s tour de force, “Mother and Child,” No. 60, awarded the first prize in Class A; and photographs taken against the light have scored throughout. However, such subjects are undoubtedly beautiful, and the rendering of true values in such subjects is exceedingly difficult, and therefore the attitude of the judges is comprehensible. In the second place, the pictures are not the original prize-winning prints, but enlargements made at the Company’s English works; and however skilful the enlarger is, he cannot possibly always catch and elaborate the ideas of men like Steichen.
Bearing this in mind, it is easy to imagine the beauty of Steichen’s own enlargement of the “Sheep Study,” No. 60, with the sheep blended into a soft mass of tones; and the above-mentioned “Mother and Child” (with the imperfections in the values of the child’s hand corrected during the enlargement) must have been quite good in the original; Stieglitz’s “Bubbles,” No. 7, however, has lost but little through enlargement, and although Stieglitz would probably have rendered the subject in a higher key, the Kodak work is excellent.
Why has not Miss Annie Brigman’s “Melody” (15) secured a first prize? It is certainly one of the gems of the collection, and it is good throughout, from the posing and lighting of the hand which holds the mandolin, to the subdued lighting of the music illuminated only by the light reflected from the face of “Melody.” Possibly the judges may have considered the lighting, which might have been arranged by Rembrandt himself, somewhat artificial; but there is no doubt that European judges would have thought differently. This picture, taken with a Kodak, enlarged on Kodak bromide paper, by the Kodak Company, is one of the finest pictures ever rendered by the camera. (13.)
1. excerpt: Judges for the Kodak Contest: Kodak Trade Circular: Toronto, Canada: April, 1905
2. Ibid: Kodak Trade Circular: December, 1904
3. Camera & Dark-Room: Edited by J.P. Chalmers: New York: January, 1905: p. 30
4. excerpt: A Short History of Kodak Advertising 1888-1932: Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia: Nancy Martha West: The University Press of Virginia: 2000: p. 27
5. excerpt: Book of the £1,000 Kodak Exhibition: The Camera and Dark-Room: New York: January, 1905: pp. 29-30
6. excerpt: £1,000 Kodak Exhibition: Notes, News & Extracts: The Photographic Times: New York: September, 1904: p. 426
7. excerpt: The Kodak Advertising Contest: The Photographic Times: May, 1908: p. 154. The top prize of $1000.00 was awarded to E. Donald Roberts of Detroit.
8. excerpt: AWARDS, PROFESSIONAL CLASS, 1909 KODAK ADVERTISING CONTEST: Wilson’s Photographic Magazine: New York: January, 1910: p. 46
9. excerpt: The Eastman Advertising-Competition: Malcolm Dean Miller: Photo-Era: Boston: January, 1911: p. 73
10. excerpt: With the Trade: 1911 Kodak Advertising-Contest: Photo-Era: Boston: March, 1911: p. 157
11. excerpt: Our Table: American Photography: Boston: May, 1913: pp. 311-312
12. Advertisements: Eastman Kodak Company: excerpt: The New Competition: The American Amateur Photographer: New York: Jan-Dec. 1905
13. excerpt: The Kodak Picture Exhibition: The Amateur Photographer: London: August 27, 1907: pp. 200-01