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Jacob Schloss

Time Period: 
Manhattan, New York City


Born in Germany and brought to America by his parents while a boy, Jacob Schloss was educated at the Cooper Union as an etcher, graduating in 1872. With Harold Rosenfield he joined the initial staff of photographers at Benjamin J. Falk's W. 24th Street studio, where he worked in the mid-1870s. When he went independent, he followed Falk in pursuing theatrical photography as a métier. His first studio was located at 54 W. 23rd Street. He initially ran it on a shoestring budget using patterned cloths, mirrors and bare plaster walls as backdrops. He invested in one paper mache pillar and had a plasterer rough cast one of the walls to provide a textured background. A specialist in diffused and shadowed natural lighting, he was an early advocate of Agfa glossy papers. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s he kept abreast of technological and aesthetic developments in photography, mastering the platinum print, which he used in his side lined society portraits, and, in 1903, electric lighting.

His performing arts portraiture tended to costume shots in front of generic studio furnishings. Though he generated mass printings of cabinet cards of theatrical celebrities like other specialists in performing arts photography, he was among the first to realize that magazine images would be the future of the business, and began generating 5x7 and 8x10 glossy paper prints for reproduction in the mid-1890s. He was the staff photographer for the pioneering photographic periodical, Broadway Magazine. By the 1890s he had become noted as a photographer of beautiful women, a spiritual successor to Jose Maria Mora.

Schloss joined the photographers' migration to Fifth Avenue at the turn of the 20th century. His studio spread across 467 & 469 5th Avenue. At this period he joined his old colleague Benjamin J. Falk in becoming an activist for photographers' copyrights. Schloss made a habit of copyrighting every image he issued in cabinet or panel format. Schloss sued anyone who attempted to make uncredited and unremunerated use of any of his images, whether it be a newspaper publisher, such as the W.D. Boyce Company (publishers of the Chicago Blade) or advertisers such as Zucker, Levett and Loeb. The Copyright League paid legal fees for Schloss's trials after 1900.

Schloss's litigiousness posed a problem for his long-term viability as a performing arts photographer.  The market shifted away from sales of celebrity cabinet cards to placement of images in periodicals for photographers.  Having earned a reputation as a litigious fellow, Schloss was not the first photographer who came to mind when an editor needed an illustration for a story.  The quality of his images managed to get him placements in newspapers and periodicals into the 1910s. His income for these images was insufficient to support the lease on his Fifth Avenue Studio. He moved to a small space on Broadway. He kept his studio open until 1928, serving walk-in customers as a portraitist. Ill health dogged the decade of his retirement.  He died at age 82, survived by his wife to whom he had been married 52 years.

Sources: "Jacob Schloss," The New Photo-Miniature vol 18.196 (1925), 214. J.V. Rollins, "Correspondence Chicago," The American Newsman vol. 11 (1894), 20. Obituary: "Jacob Schloss, 82, Camera Portraitist," NY Times (Nov 24, 1938), 27. David S. Shields/ALS


Almost exclusively a portraitist of female performers, Schloss preferred electric light illumination, and experimented with the tonal range of images to make the sitter's complexion appear to greatest advantage. He tended to present younger actresses and dancers with a repressed tonal palate, in mid-range grays; more mature performers appeared with greater contrast. Because he supplied magazines with photo content in the 1890s, he began to crop images for greater dynamic effect.