Key Photographers that captured stage and screen in the late 19th and early 20th Century. This article is composed of excerpts from "Broadway Photographs - Art Photography & The American Stage 1900-1930", the work of Dr. David S. Shields, McClintock Professor at the University of South Carolina. Used with permission. Many of the photographs referenced by Shields in his research are from our Jay Parrino's The Mint Archive. You can find additional photos by these photographers in our eBay store.
Part 6 - O - R
Mortimer Offner - 1925-1934 - NY, Hollywood
Portraits. A straight photographer who preferred to use natural light. Many of the portraits show the sitter in eye contact with the viewer. A tactful retoucher, he was one of the few photographers willing to show middle aged leading men and women with wrinkles in the 1930s. He preferred smaller format images and blind stamped the best of these with his name and NY in a circle on the lower right corner.
Ralph Oggiano - 1930-1955 - NY
A master of color process printing and the first to use it extensively in portraiture on Broadway. He specialized in waist-up portraits and bust format shots. He favored lighting which gave a gradient of shade in the background.
Pach Brothers Studio - 1867-1980s - NY
Diversified photographic service with emphasis on portraiture of the professional classes. Because of the Studios initial backing by Gen. U. S. Grant, it became the official studio of West Point. Generations of U. S. Army officers had their promotion pictures taken by Gustavus or Gotthelf Pach. In the final decades of the 19th century, the firm developed a national reputation for college portraiture. It opened branches in the Ivy League towns. Gustavus Pach invented dry plate methods of printing and the 'flashlight' method of illuminating scenes, using magnesium powder, alcohol, & a blow torch. It would be the prevalent method of lighting theatrical production shots until the 1905. Theatrical photography was a subsidiary element of a wider practice of photography, with portraiture prevailing over production shots. During the 1910s and 1920s under second generation director Alfred Pach, the studio excelled in large format images of performers in contemporary clothing.
Hal Phyfe - 1926-1955 - NY
As adept at portraying men as women, Phyfe produced some of the most dynamic male portraits of the late 1920s. He preferred not to portray performers in costume. A master of middle grays, his exhibition and portfolio prints of the late 1920s display exquisitely refined shading. During the late 1920s he indulged in the penchant among NY portraitist to vignette heads. There would be strong graphic intervention at the perimeters of the image, suggesting a drawing. In the 1930s he opted for a straighter style of portraiture, full body, often with the subject seated. His Society portraits of the 1930s are well posed and understated, suggesting refinement rather than ostentation. His popularity among Hollywood performers derives from his disinclination to overstate elegance. He signed original prints in red crayon in distinctive squared letters. His Hollywood portraits are signed on the negative in white. Periodically Phyfe published advice about how women should prepare for a photo shoot. '1. A clean face, with a dusting of fine rachel powder. 2. No foundation cream of grease beneath the powder. 3. A light lipstick--red photographs black--but an indelible one. Shape the lips in their usual lines, rub in the lip rouge, press the lips against a facial tissue to remove every speck of excessive rouge. 4. Very little mascara, and what you use concentrated on the tips of the lashes to accent their length. Artificial eyelashes are fine if they are the kind which are applied at the end of each natural lash, and not the fringe strip type which drap the eyelids down out of shape. 5. Natural eyebrows-of course yours are habitually disciplined to a clean, well grooomed line, camera sitting or no! --unless you are a very pale blonde, when a teeny bit of mascara may be used. The lens, however, will catch considerable accent from even blonde eyebrows. 6. No greasy highlights. Let the photographer add them if he wishes, about the eyelids. 7. A little dry eye shadow discreetly applied. 8. Choose a natural, simple and familiar hairdo, certainly one which will not date you. Your dress should be a pastel shade with a neckline which does not chop your head from your body, and it better not be of print fabric. The effect may detract from your face, confuse the issue. Too, print designs tend to date you, as do hats and strange hairdos.' (January 1940) 'Facial construction must be definite, even bold. And the eyes must be the pivot of the expression. For if the eyes have "It" everything else will be forgotten in their vivid, compelling attraction. Eyes create individuality, they are the spokesman for the soul, the character, the mind. For the rest-complexion, hair, features-for he knows that art and the will to achieve a certain amount of beauty can, and does do wonders.'
Ben Pinchot - 1927-1945 - NY
Ben Pinchot possessed a dramatic sense of lighting, frequently positioning spots (stark or diffused) above a sitter. He had a painterly sense of print tone and a quirky taste for capturing performers at their most extreme. His initial impression was made with extraverts behaving extravagently. But in the late 1930s, when he became enamored of photographing writers, he developed a knack for communicating the character of introverts. Pinchot shot portraits, theater production shots, prop photography, and occasional experimental prints that he bestowed on artist friends. His nudes were among the best of the 1930s. Prior to 1934, because money was often scarce, Pinchot would undertake assignments of any sort for periodicals, including architectural photography and events. After 1934, when he 'arrived,' he concentrated on character studies of dancers, actors, and operatic singers, nudes, artistic experiments, and scene shots of plays and operas that interested him.
Ben M. Rabinovitch - 1905-1940 - NY
Signing his work by his last name--'Rabinovitch'--this portraitist and still life photographer became a force in New York artist circles as a pedagogue and photographic taste-maker. In his earliest work, pre 1927, Rabinovitch cultivated a pictorialist density and richness of texture, yet he possessed an aesthetic clarity of line and an instinct for the integral disposition of various pictorial elements. Rabinovitch was particularly adamant in his determination not to retouch 'anything above the shoulders' in a portrait at a time when wrinkle erasers and 'eye doctors' dominated the dark rooms; yet he would manipulate everything in other portion of the pictorial field for expressive purposes. He did theatrical work, but his interest in human appearance was broad and he would approach interesting looking people on the street in order to portray them. In the later 1920s, he became increasingly interested in objective modernism and the sharp edge/clear focus aesthetic emerging in art photography. Yet this clarity was added to what was primarily an experimental outlook to the medium. Like Man Ray, he would solarize, or abstract pictorial elements. His still lifes from the 1930s have a spare monumental simplicity admired by lovers of modernist abstraction.
Hamilton Revelle - 1895-1921 - NY
An accomplished watercolorist, a capable pictorialist landscape photographer, Hamilton Revelle's great talent lay in the photographic distillation of character. Using a hand-sized camera with a state of the art lens, he could capture the sponteneity of back stage expression with greater swiftness and tact than any production photographer. Tirelessly experimental, with a penchant for making finished prints unqiue and gorgeous, he was the last photographic aesthete who had a reputation as a camera artist on Broadway. A resident of hotels during his stateside sojourns, Revelle lived in england, and later Monaco.
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