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M. I. Boris

Time Period: 
697 Fifth Avenue


M. I. Boris [Boris Majdrakoff] was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, and educated in the studio of the pioneer Balkan photographer and Bulgarian freedom fighter Toma Hitrov by Hitrov's widow, Elena Chernova. Boris eventually married their daughter Ivanka Hitrova, also a photographer.

Sent by his father to Vienna in 1905 to study engineering, Boris took courses in painting instead. He secured work in Atelier Adele, the photographic studio of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, and was eventually appointed studio manager. On a vacation to Sofia in 1912, the First Balkan War erupted. As a young male Bulgarian he was drafted and served in the First and Second Balkan Wars, as well as World War I. Because of his photographic abilities, he was assigned to military intelligence. After the cessation of hostilities, he discovered that his possessions in Vienna had been seized; he settled in Sofia, and worked out of the Hitrov Studio.

In 1922, in pursuit of Ivanka Hitrova, and to evade retribution for shooting a man, he moved to New York. He married and set up a studio in an apartment over the Stork Club, adopting his commercial name, "M.I. Boris." He enjoyed immediate success and established a studio on W. 57th in the premises once occupied by photographer J.A. Foley. Boris worked for three years on special jobs for Paramount Studio, supplying his elaborately etched star portraits, but quit when pressured to move to the West Coast where Paramount relocated in late 1926. The New York Times contacted him in the late 1920s about replacing Victor Georg at its studios, but Boris preferred working independently. Throughout the 1920s, he expanded into Society portraiture as a supplement to his theatrical and movie star projects.

In the late 1930s, his style grew less painterly and more "straight" as he established himself as a fixture in the New York scene. He became greatly active in the professional associations, particularly as an exhibition judge. He opened a branch of his studio in Washington, D.C. and took occasional students, such as Ralph Oggiano. Aside from his portraiture, he did photograms, abstract marbalized images, and painted on exposed photographic paper. These experimental works were for the delection of his family and photographic friends. He died on July 17, 1962 after falling into the elevator shaft at 697 Fifth Avenue, where his studio was located.

NOTES: The information in the sketch is extracted from a series of letters from 9/2004 to 10/2005 written by Ivan Majdrakoff and three written biographical recollections by Tom Majdrakoff. David S. Shields/ALS


An adherent of Jungenstil, the proto-modernist aesthetic that reigned in Austria before the War, Boris developed a mode of portrait photography with sinuous profiles and backgrounds aswirl with quasi-abstract graphic patterning. He brought the style to New York in 1923. His pictures bear strong affinities with those of Orval Hixon, Homer K. Peyton, and William Mortensen in the aggressive manipulation of the negative and the concern with creating a synthetic image of great allure. His vintage prints of the 1920s are among the rarest and most visually arresting of the portraitists of the inter-war years.