Portrait: An Early Twentieth Century Journal for Portrait Photographers by Gary D. Saretzky

Note: the following is an abbreviated and revised version of an essay published in History of Photography, 20:3 (Autumn 1996), 278. The journal did not publish an index to featured photographers, which is made available here for the first time.

According to its masthead, Portrait, a monthly journal published by the Ansco Company in Binghamton, New York, from 1909 to 1921, was "a magazine devoted to art-in-portraiture, also profit-in-photography and committed to a `square deal.'" Portrait coincided with the golden age of commercial portraiture, when the influence of amateur art photography combined with market demand to encourage the development of studios where individuals could obtain portraits that went well beyond mere likenesses. In keeping with the artistic aspirations of these photographers, such portraits were printed using controlled processes such as gum bichromate or on commercially available papers, such as Ansco's Cyko, for which several variants, including a `linen' surface, was available. Cyko, especially when toned, could resemble gum or platinum prints and was much faster to process.

Although the journal's obvious purpose was to promote the use of Ansco products, in particular Cyko paper, it also published articles containing news and advice. News features concerned such topics as advances in artificial lighting, the erection of the Hannibal Goodwin monument, and recruitment of photographers for service in World War I. Schedules for, and reports on, professional photographers'conventions were also provided regularly. Published photographs of photographic supply stores and advertisements for a variety of products provide additional historically useful information.

Portrait published advice regularly on the use of photographic materials, compositional strategies, and technical topics. Early issues contained a number of instructional articles by veteran photographer George G. Rockwood. Beginning in 1912 and for the next seven years, the prolific critic Sadakichi Hartmann, sometimes writing under his pseudonym Sidney Allan, contributed an article in almost every issue with guidance on the art of photography. Hartmann did not discuss technical matters, but rather dealt with composition, individual style, posing, handling of tone, accessories, and the like. Many of these essays analyzed the techniques of the great painters of centuries past and did not mention photography. Others reproduced and explicated examples of contemporary photographic workers, including Helmar Lerski, Clara Sipprell, Frank Eugene Smith, and Clarence White. Photographs were also published to illustrate news articles.

In addition to testimonials, Portrait promoted the use of Cyko paper through contests, notably the one announced in March 1914 called, "America's Fifty Loveliest Women Contest." To encourage women to pose, Ansco offered posters and other promotional literature to photographers. Among the judges was Alfred Stieglitz. The winners were reported in the March 1915 issue; Philip Conklin of Troy, New York, received the first prize. One of the few prize winners whose name is familiar today was E.O. Hoppe, who won three lesser prizes.

Portrait is also a good source for portraits of, and biographical information concerning, practitioners of `art-in-portraiture.' One hundred and forty-two photographers, including seventeen women, were honored with cover stories. (Since seven photographers had partners, the number of studios involved was 135.) Almost every issue featured a portrait of a U.S. or Canadian photographer on the cover, an appreciative profile, including the photographer's endorsement of Ansco's Cyko paper, and one or more examples of the photographer's work.

Featured photographers included several members of the Coterie, an informal group of the leading professional portrait photographers in the United States: E.B. ("Pop") Core, Pirie MacDonald, Commodore M.J. Steffens, and Julius C. Strauss. Others, well known in their own day if not our own, included Louis F. and Walter K. Bachrach; Alice Boughton; Mary Carnell; William Shewell Ellis; John Garo; O. Pierre Havens; Lejaren a Hiller; Dudley Hoyt; Gertrude Kaesebier; Alexander L. and Gotthelf Pach; Ryland W. Phillips; George G. Rockwood; and Edward Weston. (The reproductions of Weston's photographs in 1915 are of considerable interest because he later tried to suppress this early work.) A few of those featured were not known particularly for the portraiture, such as L.F. Hammer, of Hammer Dry Plates fame, and William H. Rau, more renowned for his production of lantern slides. Dozens of other photographers honored in Portrait's `Hall of Fame' are now rather obscure and their profiles may be among the few sources available on them.

Some prominent North American portrait photographers of this era, such as Elias Goldensky, were not featured in Portrait, even though they used Cyko paper. Nevertheless, Portrait is a potentially useful source concerning numerous photographers and other information pertaining to the practice of professional photography from 1909 to 1921.

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