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Davis and Sanford

Time Period: 
462 Fifth Avenue, New York City

Davis and Sanford Portrait studio was founded by the partners Charles Henry Davis (1862-1929) and E. Starr Sanford (1862-1917) in 1892. Both emerged as artists during the amateur photography craze of the 1880s and perfected their art in Club competitions around New York with Davis became the star of the Plainfield Club. In the 1890s Davis and Sanford determined to become professionals.

Perhaps the most artistic of the New York portrait studios organized during the Gilded Age, Davis and Sanford pioneered the colonization of Fifth Avenue by photographers. Sanford's social connections (he belonged to one of the founding families of Danbury, Connecticut) and Davis's broad familiarity with the arts (he would moonlight as assistant music critic of the New York Evening Post for years) made them immediately successful in high society and theatrical circles. Their cachet was insured when they secured exclusive rights to photograph the 1893 honeymoon trip of the Count and Countess de Castellane to the Hudson Valley.

Their elegantly linear prints in subtle gradations of gray and silver offered a rival vision of artistic photography to the atmospheric style of the soft-focus pictorialists of Carbon Studios. By 1900 they stood atop the profession.

Sanford retired in 1901; Davis became the sole artistic director of the studio's photography, until 1905 when Rudolph Eickemeyer, Jr., purchased a half interest in the business. The studio was named Davis and Eickemeyer until 1909 when Eickemeyer left to helm the branch of Campbell Studio at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. The firm again became "Davis and Sanford." In 1913 the studio vacated the Fifth Avenue location. In 1915, Davis turned over the studio to others who kept the brand alive. On December 21, 1922 the firm merged with Marceau Studio, keeping the name Davis and Sanford. David S. Shields/ALS


Sidney Allen, in a 1906 appreciation of the portraiture of Charles H. Davis, listed the ideals that informed the approach of Davis and Sanford: "Likeness, facial expression, naturalness of pose, grace of line, skilful lighting, and above all else, artistic handling." From the first, the artistry of Davis and Sanford images were remarked by critics and the public. At a time when nebulousness of focus and dark tonalities were being championed by photographic pictorialists, Davis created images that appeared with clear definition, that did not betray the extensive manipulation of the negative, choosing instead to exploit the exquisite gradation of tone, particularly silvers and grays, available with platinum media, and display a painterly sense of linear arrangement. Because pictorialist portraiture tended to obscure outline (think of certain of Arnold Genthe's prints), the linear elegance of sitters and scenes is sacrificed in the name of impression. Davis opted for elegance and so established the studio as the byword of artistic portraiture in New York in the 1890s.

NOTES: Sidney Allen, "The Ideal Average-Charles H. Davis," Wilson's Photographic Magazine 43 (1906), 7-9.