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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
Posted February 2013 in Advertising, New Additions
Perhaps as a final swan song to its illustrious editor, the final issue of the American Amateur Photographer in which Alfred Stieglitz was associated-December 1895-featured an actual gelatin-silver photograph by the American master. (1.)
But don’t get too excited. Unlike the exacting standards Stieglitz made in creating master prints from one of his own negatives, (often not exceeding one example) At Lake Como taken in 1887 was reproduced in several thousand examples for the issue. In fact, copy supplied by the paper manufacturer, the Nepera Chemical Company, inferred the simplicity involved in exposing the Velox paper it was printed on: “exposures were made by a boy unskilled or unacquainted with photography”.
From the collecting standpoint, especially by one of the medium’s greats, the print however is extremely rare, and is a continuation of the fascinating history of photographic marketing in which original prints were bound inside journals for the purpose of selling product, in this case the Velox brand. You can read more about the process of making this print here, and see the uncropped version.
For myself, the artist’s intent for At Lake Como is more fully realized- and unfaded- in another version seen below: a hand-pulled gravure reproduced in 1893.
1. Stieglitz however did appear as co-editor on the masthead of the American Amateur Photographer along with F.C. Beach for the final issue of January, 1896.
Posted December 2012 in Advertising, Fashion Photography
Recognize the face? A teen model aiming her Kodak in a sheep field? If yes, please do tell. With her mystery my acknowledgment, I can say without hesitation it’s a snap getting sucked into the world of early Kodak advertising.
As noted in this site’s previous post of their colorization of an early 1908 advertising contest winner by Marian Pearce of Waukegan, IL, Kodak’s marketing genius often took the form of “candid” views of models using cameras in the field: children taking pictures with a Brownie box variety, in the case of the Pearce winning photograph, or this silver gelatin print in the PhotoSeed Archive featuring a fashionably-dressed girl releasing the bulb shutter of what appears to be a model 3A Folding Pocket Kodak. (1.)
Similar to my discovery of the Pearce image used later in an advertisement, I’ve spent more than a few hours trying to decipher if this girl with chapeau was also published, but with no luck. Among multiple sources in the search process, I’ve come across a few notable online sites including the smile-inducing KodakGirl Collection (German publishing house Steidl releases this month their marvelous addition to Kodak scholarship: Kodak Girl: from the Martha Cooper Collection ) and revisited many pages from Duke University Libraries resource Emergence of Advertising in America currently showing 550 early Kodak advertisements.
But getting back to that face. I’ve tentatively dated this photograph from 1900-1920, and the commercial nature of the image suggests deliberate posing, with the model seen in profile holding her Kodak camera to nice effect. The carrying case is also stylishly displayed-consistent with vintage advertisements from this era- slung over her shoulder and resting on her hip. I may of course be wrong, but in addition to this young lady sharing a striking resemblance to very early known photos of her, (2.) and the intriguing abbreviated reference to the city of Philadelphia on the back of the photograph, Kodak Girl in Sheep Field may very well show American silent film actress and Philadelphia native Eleanor Boardman. (1898-1991)
The photographer, as I decipher on the back of the photo, was Edwin H. Fait. (see detail above) Boardman is acknowledged to have been one of the famous Kodak Girls, appearing in color on the cover of the 1921 Kodak catalogue, but perhaps not surprisingly when it comes to celebrity, research inconsistencies are rife. She is first believed to have begun modeling in 1913-1914, when she would have been 15 or 16 years of age-consistent with the dating for this photograph. A 1931 newspaper account stated:
About the time she finished art school, Miss Boardman began posing for commercial photographers. She became famous as the Kodak Girl and was the central figure in an advertising campaign which portrayed her snapping pictures in many localities. (3.)
Whatever her mysterious identity, this Kodak girl undoubtedly inspired others from the era to pick up a camera of their own.
1. The 3A Folding Pocket Kodak was first introduced in 1903. Another possibility is that she holds a model 1A Special Kodak, which first came out in 1912.
2. Due to copyright considerations, I’ve elected not to show these here, although early portraits of Eleanor Boardman can be found doing common search engine image searches.
3. “Eleanor Boardman was Kodak Girl”: from: The Lewiston (ME) Daily Sun: October 15, 1931
Posted December 2012 in Advertising, Color Photography
It is always a pleasure to run across vintage advertising featuring photographs from this archive. Marian Pearce, an amateur from Waukegan, IL, was the grand prize winner in 1908 for this original platinum photograph in the Eastman Kodak Company’s annual advertising contest. Her winning entry, featuring a young girl snapping a photo of her (presumed) younger sister with a Brownie camera appeared in the Ladies Home Journal the following year.
What was unexpected was seeing the photograph in the ad published in color. Eastman Kodak advertising manager L.B. Jones oversaw this campaign, with the theme of “Let the Children Kodak.” The three-color halftone process used to reproduce the photo in the June, 1909 issue of the magazine may have been the result of a hand-colored version of the Pearce photograph.
Sadly, Mrs. Pearce is not given credit for the photo in the ad, which is of course still common today, although her grand prize of $300.00 she earned in the amateur category of the 1908 contest was a king’s ransom for the time.
Posted November 2012 in Advertising, Conservation
Ok, I admit it. I found the little bugger opposite the page containing the engraving of this fashionably-dressed gentleman focusing and peering into his elegant camera. When I recently opened a parcel containing several European volumes from the late 1890’s-you know-the photo kind-I was not prepared for the disaster waiting inside. Misbound, with the bindings perished and outer paper covers secured with copious amounts of glue on the inner signatures upside down, I deemed the volumes immediately breakable in order to separate and archivally preserve the very fine gravure plates within.
As a lover and caretaker of fine books, this is always the last resort. But occasionally, it is vital. Short of placing everything into a deep freeze, photographic material from any vintage, especially the old stuff, needs to be properly conserved for future generations. As for breaking a book, I’m sure many professionals would take exception to my approach, and I respect that. Certainly, all photographic conservation should be done on a case-by-case basis, and when in doubt, consult someone in the know. My own golden rules starts with wise advice I received from a George Eastman House curator many years ago: the first best defense for preservation is sometimes to do nothing at all. My own conscience however dictates intervention whenever I find photographic media in contact with the bad stuff. This usually takes the form of acidic materials in the shape of mat boards, backing boards made from real wood and other types of non-archival paper-pulp coming into direct contact with the front surface (recto) or rear support (verso) of fine photographs.
And the Silverfish about to have its picture taken? Possibly as old as the book, with its exoskeleton complimentary in color to the amber-colored adhesive used in the binding. He, she, or it probably had a good fill of the stuff before mercifully turning and playing dead for the next century or so.
Posted November 2012 in Advertising, History of Photography, Journals, Publishing
The Photographic Times (1871-1915) was one of America’s earliest and most important photographic journals. By 1880, its publisher declared it the highest circulating magazine of its type in the country and by December of 1893, the first edition was stated to be 5,000 copies a week, an extraordinary number considering the inclusion by that time of a hand-pulled photogravure or collotype frontis plate. As a researcher, it would be presumptuous of me to think it possible in the modern day to present a fully-formed history of this publication without more direct corroboration from those who made that history. But since those folks are all dead, someone had to take a stab at it.
Besides the written record, the important legacy left by the journal in my estimation are its hand-pulled photogravure plates which appeared regularly from 1889-1904, the latter being included in the combined but short-lived publication The Photographic Times-Bulletin. As a collector of this material for many years, it is surprising to me how little seems to have survived given the large circulation of the Times. My overview of the publication, which appears here in PhotoSeed Highlights, might very well put you to sleep due to length, or perhaps not. In tracing the history of this journal, my journey of discovery made me realize a fact of interest to all photographers, especially with respect to the United States: the first publisher of the Times, the Scovill Manufacturing Company of New York City, with a large factory complex in Waterbury, CT, was largely responsible for the birth and progress of photographic commerce in 19th century America.
The following visual timeline is my attempt to show off the look of the publication over the 45 years it existed under its own imprint along with the principal men involved in editing it- part of the Photographic Times Publishing Association, one of the many business interests of the parent company. During this time, Scovill’s march of trade on the island of Manhattan involved eight separate business moves over a walkable distance today of roughly 4.6 miles. To this end, part of the mission statement issued by the Time’s editors to its many readers- from post American Civil War beginnings in January, 1871 to its 1915 demise remained true over the life of the journal:
we shall intersperse here and there delicate half-tones and harmonious shades from sources of information which shall do you good service in your manipulations, and add to your store of useful knowledge. We have engaged talent for this end, which is competent and able to instruct.
-David Spencer November, 2012
Posted December 2011 in Advertising, Publishing
Is logical. And I’ll tell you why. Because the Boraxologist told me so. How else to explain the 1906 publication of a small book featuring the work of American Photo-Secession founder members Clarence White and Gertrude Käsebier as a way to convince folks to open new savings accounts at a bank in Rochester, New York?
I’m guessing you have no clue what I’m talking about, but if you happened to be alive in 1904 and flipping through your daily newspaper, chances are good you might have encountered a drawing of a wise old mule-named the Boraxologist—lauding the untold benefits of “20-Mule Team Brand Borax”—a water-softening agent used in the laundry. Today, Borax® is best known as a laundry “booster” and multi-purpose household cleaner. But thanks to the sayings of this mule a century ago, you may have believed the Fountain of Youth and Holy Grail were cleverly disguised in a box—humbly biding time on the general store shelf, awaiting your purchase to give new life to dirty clothes.
The mind that came up with the mule with the funny sounding name and that little book from the bank was from a gentleman by the name of Otis H. Kean. A book publisher and advertising agent by profession, Kean turned creeds and in his own words, “optimistic aphorisms” into advertising copy by the barrel. “Such things seem to please the people” he said in 1904, regarding his “wisdom” dished out as part of the borax campaign. While reading through much of his published copy in preparation for this post, the modern figure of Don Draper did cross my mind, but of course from the “kinder and gentler” era of the early 20th century. I have no doubt if Kean was given a client’s account with the challenge of selling the benefits of more snow to a group of Eskimos, he would have no hesitation with the challenge. In carrying this mindset forward, Kean’s contact with cutting edge artistic photography by Clarence White and Gertrude Käsebier was simply the opportunity to consummate a marriage: photographs as visual aphorisms if you will. Why just confine their work to a gallery he may have thought, when it could be the perfect foil in promoting the virtues of opening a new savings account at the just opened Rochester Trust & Safe Deposit Company’s new building?
Boraxologically speaking, how exactly did Mr. Kean persuade or convince this aforementioned gallery owner, none other than Alfred Stieglitz himself, that using White’s and Käsebier’s work was in his best interest? A moot point perhaps, because Kean succeeded in issuing this tiny book, titling it “Homespun Essays—Everyday Thoughts About Everyday Life”, which featured their work. Of course, their encounter may never have happened, but if it did, a conversation between this wisdom spouting advertising man and fierce guardian of the American Photo-Secession would have been amusing to say the least.
My own take on Kean while preparing Homespun Essays for this site is this: a perfectionist with a heart. The specialized books he published in conjunction with his business concern, the Literary Print Shop, were high-class productions and in this regard, his possible saving grace in relation to any possible dealings he may have had with Stieglitz. It wasn’t as if he was opposed to all commerce of course, but you do have to consider Stieglitz was most definitely an anomaly in the gallery world when and if Kean crossed his threshold in pursuit of “business”. This is because his well documented and self-prescribed “fight” for photography in America took the form of fierce protector and champion of White’s and Käsebier’s photography at a time when the very concept of hanging artistic photographs on gallery walls was in itself a revolutionary act. Kean’s involvement with fine printing and his possible business relationship with the Quadri-Color Printing Company in New York City—a firm responsible for the first true, four-color printing in America beginning in 1904, would have also given both a healthy respect for each other and a way to start a meaningful conversation.
Please visit our latest opus on Homespun Essays here, and prepare yourself to be “homespun” if you decide to read the posted essays along with the photographs, where you may smile and even laugh, especially after digesting this following tidbit from the book’s publisher: “The Trust Company never dies, never absconds and is immune from those possibilities of loss that may happen to every individual.” But then again, don’t cry too much when you find out they actually paid 4% interest back then on a savings account.