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Samuel Lumiere

Time Period: 
140 W. 45th St.; 574 Fifth Ave., NYC


Samuel Lumiere was born in Persk, Russia, in 1878, and trained in St. Peterburg. He claimed relation to the Lumiere brothers of France, inventors of the Autochrome color process. After teaching photography in Europe, Lumiere emigrated to the United States. The Lumiere name helped establish his studio in the New York market about 1910. He made his reputation as an entertainment portraitist in 1916 shooting vaudeville performers. By 1917 he was contracting to shoot movie stars affiliated with New York film studios, particularly World Films and Vitagraph.

In the early 1920s he trained Roman Freulich, who would become an important still photographer for Universal Studios in Hollywood, and employed Elena Chernova, wife of M.I. Boris as a retoucher. In the early 1920s the Chicago Tribune retained him to supply pictures of touring stage and screen celebrities. In September 1930, the studio was burglarized. The Depression and competition forced him out of the city into Far Rockaway where he maintained a studio until 1945 when he went bankrupt.

During the 1930s the psychologist H.A. Murray came across a Lumiere photo of Yehudi Menhuin as a child staring at a violin. It became one of the key images in the Thematic Apperception Test, a technique for inducing free-fantasy and association in teenagers. Lumiere reamined active in the metropolitan areas camera clubs until the mid-1940s. He died in Dalton, Georgia, in 1971.

NOTES: "Burglars Ransack 5th Ave. Photo Studio," NYT (Sep 13, 1930), 11. J.D., "Notes of the Camera World," NYT (Jan 11, 1942), XX11. "Business Records," NYT (Jan 22, 1945), 23. U.S. Census 1920, Bronx A Dist. 649; supervisor's district 2, enumeration district 248, sheet 2. David S. Shields/ALS


Lumiere Studio was exclusively concerned with portraiture. It did society work, theatrical photography, and film publicity in the later 1910s for New York studios. He rarely produced prints in larger formats, but was a master of the 8x10 "fancy shot." He used soft focus lenses on female sitters and was a master retoucher who could make an image blemish-free and other-worldly in its surface beauty. Lumiere had an improvisational streak and would occasionally do humorous photo suites with Showgirls from the revues. His signature often had a copyright sign with rays; this iconic sun punned his name.