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Ira D. Schwarz

Time Period: 
Brooklyn, NY


Ira Daniel Schwarz was a life-long resident of Brooklyn and one of the first of the New York portrait artists to work in motion pictures. He began as a pictorialist art photographer, showing prints in the 1912 meeting of the American Photographer's Association in NY. During the First World War, he became an employee of New York-based Screencraft Pictures, serving as Cinematographer and Stillman for "The Prodigal Wife" and "Suspense." His talent for the latter proved stronger than the former. In 1919 he became the chief camera for Photocraft Studio in Manhattan and for four years did extensive portrait and production work for that brand. Images that appeared in print bore the Photocraft credit. Presentation copies of the same prints bore his personal name. He earned reputation as a cameraman who would travel to any location in the metropolitan area, transporting banks of portable lights in his car.

Fascinated with shade, he was known for the plummy blacks in his prints, giving birth to a punning compliment: "Hey--that's a Schwarz print!" In 1924 he broke with Photocraft, set up an independent studio publishing under his own credit line. In the late 1920s, he attempted to compete with Tommy Vandamm as a production photographer of the stage and enjoyed some success in the 1930s shooting a number of serious, experimental dramas. He did portrait work as well and was considered a photographic psychologist by his colleagues, intent on capturing the mentality of his sitter. In the 1930s he was one of the first to adopt fast film and hand-held Leica cameras. The silver shortage in World War II prompted him to close studio. He worked at the end of his life as a technician in a photo studio in Stamford, Connecticut. David S. Shields/ALS