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John McIan

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Proprietor of the McIan Studio, the in-house photographic production facility for the Daly Theater enterprises in New York at the turn of the 20th century, John McIan was born in Ohio in April of 1864. Trained in fine arts as well as photography, he married in 1890, and the couple moved to Manhattan. McIan wished to make his mark immediately, and so set up McIan Studio at 40 W. 34th Street in Manhattan (a locale currently sharing the block the Empire State Building).

In 1896 the great theatrical photographer Napoleon Sarony died. Among those producers who invariably used Sarony to shoot publicity for players and productions was Augustan Daly, ensconced in the Lyceum Theater. Daly's staff did not much care for the prospect of having Otto Sarony shoot their productions since he spent so much time in yatching and other sports. Whatever the case, John McIan found himself installed in Daly's Theater Building with a studio. The death of Augustin Daly in 1899 occasioned a period of neglect, and McIan took the opportunity to invite all young performers to visit. He remained operating the the studio until at least 1906. David S. Shields/ALS


McIan primarily portrayed women in costumes and gowns. He worked at the moment when certain sitters regarded back paintings as old fashioned. To suit the modern sorts he had a patterned background of geometric lozenges. Being located in a theater, he had access to flats and props, so that when he did shoot a scenic portrait, he could manage quite elaborate effects. Since his work took place in the heyday of large hats, cropping close ups to give the hat's contour the most striking effect became a particular concern. When he made full figure images, he preferred low horizon lines.