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Seeing the Stage

Seeing the Stage

David S. Shields

Well before the birth of photography graphic artists produced engravings of resonant scenes within popular plays for sale to the public.  These took several forms: some operated as visual mementos of landmark theatrical events in the life of the metropole (John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera” inspired a blizzard of imagery hawked at the stalls of the print sellers.) Some served as illustrations in the published texts of plays. (Professor Robert Maccubbin is perhaps the greatest collector of these in the English speaking world.) Some served to burnish the reputation of star performers by showing him or her undertaking a famous role; these often sold at the theater. (David Garrick doing Shakespeare’s various male characters comes to mind.).  None of these forms operated as publicity, a means of generating public interest in a new offering.  That task in the 18th century fell to the hand bill, and in the 19th-century to the poster and magazine piece.

With the rise of  the spectacle drama in the early 19th century, the uncanny nature of mimic ship battles performed on a flooded stage, or mock conflagrations, or transformations of mundane landscapes into fairy land challenged the capacity of artists to capture the theater’s visual magic in a single image.  Poster artists attempted the task, but all too frequently resorted to irrationally colored sensational images as a substitute for an accurate stage picture.  When photography came into being, the long exposure times, the obscurity of theater’s lighting, and the peculiar locality of illumination with limelight  prevented a clear view of action.  The breadth of the stage and the desire to encompass all its action in a view often led to positioning the camera far out in the house, making the expression of characters on stage visible only as bodily gesture.  Of these difficulties, that of illuminating the vast interior spaces of the theatre in the absence of skylights and windows (all theaters lacked the former, the majority, the latter), proved most difficult.

Open air performances that took place in daylight did not suffer this difficulty. Though such performances were not frequent, the Oberammergau Passion Play was captured from a distance in both 1870 and 1880. No successful interior stage photograph predated 1881.  

After the commercial success of the tableaux in 1875, the issue of producing stage pictures became an economic problem.  When the cost of illuminating a theater became less than the cost of commissioning background paintings and props for a tableaux, then the production still would triumph.  Why settle for an imitation set in a background painting, when you could depict the actual stage?  Beginning in the late 1870s a number of photographers experimented without success in using various kinds of flash lighting—instantaneous flares of detonated chemicals.  These produced an unnatural uniform glare often faster than the shutter speed, and not permitting the adjustment of focus.  Most of these experimental images were discarded, but one that does survive—a set of images from an 1880 performance of “Old Love Letters” in New York illustrates the problem. ["Old Love Letters"] Despite being taken on a small (purpose-built?) stage, the focus is fuzzy and the lighting oddly contrived, deriving from a cut out ceiling section—an artificial skylight in a prop ceiling with the flash source from above. 

In 1879 Charles Brush devised an electric carbon-arc lamp linked to its own dynamo system that made electric illumination for expansive spaces possible.  In 1881 [i] James Notman in Boston took a version of this system to Harvard to record the landmark performance of “Oedipus, the King,” by the University’s Greek Club.  The first original language production of an ancient Greek play in the western hemisphere, the Harvard “Oedipus” proved a sensation in critical and popular circles—a literary event of the first rank.[ii]  Notman collected 14 of the images and published them in a limited release album, Scenes from Oedipus the King as Performed at Harvard in May 1881 Photographed with the Electric Light by James Notman.[iii]  As the streak of reflected light vectoring down the left wall in the image of Oedipus turning his back on the angry seer Tiresias, Notman’s control of the illumination was imperfect.  Having a single powerful light source with no deflectors and diffusers made the scene visible, but awash in vagrant optical phenomena. 

Given the public sensation the Harvard “Oedipus” caused,  theatrical photographers in Boston and New York pondered the Notman images and their significance for the profession.  Yet no one acted upon the initiative until 1883, hindered by the challenge of providing one’s own dynamo to light a theater.  In winter of that year the Edison Electric Company began the electrification of Manhattan.  The Madison Square Theater was among the second set of properties wired in April of 1883.  On May 1, Benjamin J. Falk brought in a crew with arc lights and shortly before midnight photographed the last scene of Act II of “A Russian Honeymoon.” [Falk: "A Russian Honeymoon"] Published immediately, it would be the first production still from a commercial stage work generally deemed a successful stage picture, and won immediate extensive coverage in the photographic trade magazines.  “35 or 40 electrical burners were distributed on the stage in the best method they could arrange.  They were arc lights, and about 75,000 candle power.”[iv]  British commentators celebrated the achievement, publishing details of how Falk accomplished his picture.  “The lens used was a Dallmeyer’s rapid rectilinear with the second stop  The exposure for the picture was, we believe, about a minute, though some smaller negatives were taken with exposures as short as eight seconds.  A remarkable feature is the entire absence of the strong cast shadows so generally met with in pictures by the electric light, and the contrast between the illumination of the interior and the glimpse of open landscape and figures sent through the window in the centre is very cleverly managed.  We shall not be surprised to find this example in theatrical advertising followed by managers on this side of the Atlantic.”  

Falk’s “Russian Honeymoon” image presented the invariable format of the production still for the first decade of its existence.  The whole expanse of the stage is shown, with every performer in the scene, viewed from a position directly in front at least 15 rows deep in the house.  A single scene from a play, however accurately reportorial, did not provide the rich information of a series of tableaux, so Falk for his second photo-light  stage project took eight images of William Young’s four-act comedy, “The Rajah,” including a view of John Mazzanovich’s much admired sylvan glade, the first masterwork of American scenic artistry captured in photography. [Falk: "The Rajah" Glade] These images could be purchased separately in cabinet and elephant formats.  For the 100th performance of the play on September 11, 1883, the Heliotype Printing Company collected all eight images in a booklet souvenir.[v]  The labor involved in setting up the arc-lights necessary to create images of this fidelity and subtlety can scarcely be imagined.  Falk recognized the effort in a  portrait of his “Electric Light Brigade” for a later production, the 1886 melodrama, “Our Old Homestead,” [Falk-Old Homestead-Photo Light Brigade]. Thirteen men stand before Homer F. Emmens’s splendid scene of a stone Gothic courtyard, dressed in sober black suits and wearing hats. Periodically from 1883 to 1894 Falk would call his electricians into the field to capture a musical or play.  Several singular moments of American theater were captured by Falk: a pose from the “Heifer Dance” from Edward E. Rice’s opera bouffe “Evangeline” performed in a cow costume.  [Falk—Evangeline-Heifer Dance] His stills for “A Trip to Chinatown” (1894) included the first action images of dancers performing in an American stage production.  [Falk-A Trip to Chinatown]. We see a couple hoofing mid-step.

Others attempted to shoot stage images for sale during the 1880s.  Charles Conly and Henry Holland took their cameras into the Boston theaters with arc lights and took images of different sorts.  Conly pioneered the genre of audience images—portraits taken from the stage of first nighters.  The first of these took place on April 10, 1885 at the Bijou Theater.  He periodically produced these until 1890 when he turned his lights on the stage for the first time, take production stills of “Soudan.” This was follow up the next year with “Giroufe Giroufa.”[vi] While these images generated publicity, they did not bring in much cash. Conly’s rival Henry Holland at this juncture began shooting stills.  One of the surviving stage pictures from 1893’s “Friend Fritz” of John Mason and Robert McWade interacting on stage as Fritz Kobus and David Sichel, suggests why Holland did not make his fortune in this genre. [Holland: Friend Fritz]  The figures seem too small and distant, their expression reduced to gesture.  The usual shading of the theatrical lighting has been lost in the glare of the art, showing the artificiality of the set.  Hence the depth of the set collapses and the illusion of verisimilitude lost.  Only an adept hand at lighting with multiple arc lamps could make the electric light still work; there was only one—Benjamin J. Falk.

It is instructive that Falk, the foremost still production photographer of the 1880s did not abandon the tableaux as a form while he made stage pictures.  There were things that could be done, in Falk’s mind, using the tableaux format that could not be done as well using arc lamps in the theater.  Daniel Frohman, the producer who financially backed Falk’s first experiments, explained:  “Flash lights are not successful, so far as faithful reproduction of the actors’ faces and expressions go.”[vii] Lighting control with electric illumination did not permit close up on stage shots because of the glare of the performers’ faces.  So for facial expression, one had to employ  the tableaux. [Falk: Bijou Fernandez] Frohman systematically began to send his performers at the Madison Square Theatre to Falk’s studio to photograph “situations” which Frohman would send out as advertising. “The benefits of the photographing system enabled managers to display pictures subseuqnetly in other cities when these companies were seen on tour.”[viii] When Falk abandoned production still photography in the mid-1890s, he kept publishing tableaux and the occasional “situation” shot well into the twentieth century.  He gave up taking stage pictures because he recognized that a genius had arisen in New York whose stills possessed a superior poetry and power and control over theatrical illumination. He surrendered the task of recording the stage to Joseph Byron. 

Magnesium Light, Selenium Shade

Isolated by chemist Sir Humphrey Davy in 1808 from the common mineral Magnesium Oxide, the volatile bright burning element magnesium became in the 1850s the focus of experiments in illumination in German and Great Britain.  H. R. Roscoe of Manchester suggested its utility for photographic illumination in 1859, and the manufacture of magnesium wire commenced in 1863 in that city.  In 1864 Alfred Brothers (1826-1912) took the first generally recognized photograph with flash illumination of the Blue John Mines in Derbyshire.[ix] In Nottingham, the sixteen year-old son of photographer James Byron Clayton (commercial name James Byron), Joseph Byron, followed these developments with sharp attention. Later in life he would concoct a story to flesh out a profile being written by Sadakichi Hartman that in 1863 he used a magnesium wire flash on March 10, 1863 to light a picture  of a bullock roast celebrating the marriage of at the Prince of Wales.[x]  Since the first public exhibition of magnesium wire did not take place until November 1863, we can be certain that Byron’s was an invented history.  Yet by the time he told these tales at the turn of the 20th century, he was so identified with the magnesium flash mode of illumination that he felt a need to be a participant in its nativity.  In truth, he came to magnesium because of a subsidiary stream of business that his father’s Nottingham Studio pursued during the 1870s, industrial photography.  From the mid-19th century onward the Nottingham collieries delved deep shafts in search of seams. The perils and profits of the business became of immense concern to the British government who commissioned Byron & Son to document conditions. Joseph in his twenties began recording that harsh world we know best from the early stories of D. H. Lawrence.  Joseph had to learn the control of magnesium flash illumination because subterranean gas pockets and the flammability of bituminous coal; the risk of subterranean ignitions forced one to master the flash pan.  He abandoned magnesium wire and began using magnesium powder exclusively for his flash light. 

When the death of James Byron in 1880 elevated Joseph to sole proprietorship of the Nottingham Studio, the young photographer took stock of his growing family, the danger of the industrial dimension of the studio’s work, and the constrained prospects for profit. He soldiered for seven years trying to expand the Nottingham business before concluding that his skills would be better remunerated in the United States.  He came in 1887, secured a job as  a New York newspaper photographic journalist, returned to England in 1888 to transport his family to America. 

Byron’s skills as a flash light virtuoso did not matter so much as his experience as a documentary photographer in getting hired in New York. He signed on as a photographer for the Illustrated American, a periodical that took on Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly as the witness to the current scene.  From 1888 to 1889 he roamed the countryside taking event photos, yet he noticed that the Illustrated American devoted substantial coverage to the stage.  He also noted that tableaux served in the place of “stage pictures” and that the few production stills produced were all produced by a cumbersome battery of arc lights.  He glimpsed opportunity. 

In 1890 playwright John Arthur scored a smash hit with his Hoosier melodrama “Blue Jeans”—the most successful American play since “The Old Homestead,” a work captured by Falk’s photolight stills shortly after its premiere in 1886.  Byron secured permission from J. Wesley Rosenquest, manager of the 14th Street Theatre, to photograph several of the key scenes, and most importantly the climactic scene of the heroine saving the hero from being dissected by a saw mill (prototype of all such scenes on stage and screen).  He took his magnesium rig into the theatre, set it up in the eighth row—closer than Falk’s 15th row vantage.  He had three light sources and arranged them so as to simulate stage lighting.  The result did not convince Rosenquest that he should fire his poster artist. 

For five years Byron tried to convince theater managers to pay him to photograph their productions so they could give the images gratis to periodical editors for publicity.  From 1890 to 1895 Byron kept himself afloat as a free lance journalist and industrial photographer. He made occasional stage pictures that he sold to editors for a pittance.  He realized that the costs of printing with the new half tone processes made editors parsimonious when paying photographers, whether salaried or freelance.  The magazines were killing the cabinet card business.  The photographer needed a new source of revenue and that it had to come from either the theatrical producer or the theater manager.  Frohman’s arrangeman’s with Benjamin J. Falk was the model.  Byron finally secured his patron when he convinced George Lederer of the Casino Theater to pay him for shooting publicity stills of his productions.[xi]  Beginning with Victor Herbert’s musical “Wizard of the Nile “ Byron advanced his cause with every suite of images.  The superior flash lighting, the closer vantage made faces visible.  He used an 11x14 camera with a fourteen inch Ross-Goerz lens. He employed pure magnesium in his flash kit, with an ignition lamp of his own design.

Byron devised an extraordinary style marker that distinguished his prints from any others being produced by theatrical photographers.  Using English Wratton dryplates (a very fine grained gelatin of silver bromide), he toned his glossies with selenium sulfide during development to give them a chocolaty purple-brown hue. 

“A Bachelor’s Romance” (1896) inspired another of Byron’s innovation—the on stage shot of a scene. Because of camera placement in proximity with the performers, the viewer of a print seemed a participant in the action. For managers these close-in views had an advantage--faces appeared clearly. One clubbical scene of gentlemen reading conveyed the absorption of three of the bachelors in their books.  To the left a colleague in evening dress stares with dismay at the scene.  [Byron: A Bachelor’s Romance 1896].  Moving the camera on stage freed Byron from the tyranny of the directorial eye in the disposition of persons and props in a scene.  Directors assumed the perspective of the house when arranging people and things along the stage.[xii]  Once Byron realized he was not obliged to inhabit the director’s visual disposition, he exploited his liberty for all kinds of effects.  He strove for artistry; indeed, his credit backstamp read “Joseph Byron Artist in Photography.”

Byron’s talent shines most markedly in brilliant images for plays that bombed, for instance the atmospheric two-shot of Eleanor Robson and Frederick Perry  in the Ford & Boddington drama of colonial America, “Audrey.” [Byron: "Audrey"] Looking at this beautifully composed pictorialist scene of two unusual souls, one wonders whether the play failed because its action may have been too poetic, too agrarian, too spiritual for a New York audience. 

Byron’s ability to capture the movement of passion on the stage appeared repeatedly in his work, perhaps in no play more arrestingly than the suite of images produced for David Belasco’s tragedy of Christian Byzantium “Adrea.”  In the climactic moment Pricess Adrea plunges a knife into the chest of her lover to save him from the indignity of a public execution that her own volatile temper had imposed upon him.  [Byron: "Adrea"] Byron’s image conveys both the splendor of William Buckland’s Roman set, and Belasco’s aesthetic of excess—“an excess of persons, objects, pictures, emotions, and words; the superflux that proceeds from intensely passionate feeling in the conception of the story, and especially in the conception and development of its central character.”[xiii]     We glimpse the visual extravagance that Buckland would take to Hollywood, when Cecile B. DeMille hired him as art director of his motion pictures in 1913. 

Byron wished to capture in his prints all of the visual magic of the stage.  Color presented a difficult problem that theatrical photographers had fudged by hiring tinters to hand color black and white prints and using them as the basis for color lithography in posters or handbills.  Byron preferred to tint prints rather than color them.  Special effects such as pyrotechnics and mirror illusions also posed challenges.  Photographer Antonio Moreno developed a reputation as a ‘cloud man’ painting clouds onto the negative with a device of his own invention.  Byron became known as a “fire and smoke” man.  The 1902 melodrama “The Ninety and Nine” featured a runaway train that catches fire. Byron’s seven images of the climactic scene show his deft hand with a paintbrush, recreating the coal fire plumes  and flame gouts. [Byron: "The Ninety and Nine"]

Byron’s final innovation in theatrical photography had to do with genre rather than the treatment of the image.  In 1903 he convinced the foremost actresses of the day to permit him taking portraits of them in their homes. The traditional reluctance of performers to be depicted in unstaged surroundings was overcome by Byron's suggestion that he was engaging in a theatrical version of "Home Portraiture." The more artistic of the society portrait photographers, artists such as Ernest Walter Histed, had developed a sub-genre of portraiture showing persons in family settings, particularly children, artistically toned and shaded. Wealthy sitters welcomed the opportunity to show off their estates, and the evidences of their taste in collecting and interior design. Because society portraiture had developed in explicit distinction from the elaborately staged sort of portraiture devised by Napoleon Sarony for theatrical figures, Byron's notion of appropriating home portraiture for performers had a kind of shock value. Even the greatest performers did not command the wealth of the Blue Book set, so there would be no extraordinary domestic exhibition of antique furnishings or old master paintings, yet the connection that the greatest actresses had with the artistic world of their day, and their acute taste, might offer some sort of compensation. Byron intended the actress home portraits to be a series purchasable by the public. Multiple images were taken of each actress in various rooms in the house. Nearly 40 of the pictures were copyrighted.[xiv] Numbers appeared as illustrations in the national magazines. Each had an interesting gradation of shadow to light. The sitter appeared in a gown or evening dress rather than a house dress. Rarely did she engage the onlooker with her eyes. Rather, she attended to something in her familiar surroundings. These images are the origins of a long-lived and well developed tradition of  at home celebrity portraiture.

The excitement of Byron’s images created an intense demand from magazines and newspaper editors for scene stills and candid portraits.  When he began raising his prices for stills to managers, two cameramen scented opportunity.


Joseph Hall and Luther White

Joseph Hall’s career path echoed Byron’s. After the Civil War he sat up shop in Brooklyn as a landscape and a documentary photographer. He crisscrossed the metropolitan area in a photowagon in which he prepared collodion wet capture civic events, building erections, and fires. He finished the images at his Fulton Street studio. He proved so adept at the mechanical and chemical aspects of photo reproduction he set up as a manufacturing photographers, mass reproducing images for other photographers as well as his own.  In the 1880s the demand for club portraits in club houses had him mastering the new art of magnesium flash photography.  By 1890 he won exhibition medals for his work. He had a genius for photo print and became a manufacturing photographer, a specialist in printing multiple prints from a negative for mass distribution. Posterity honors him for one portion of this mobile work—his late 1880s portraits of professional baseball teams.  These cabinet and imperial cabinet group portraits have become the pinnacle of sports card collecting for the dead ball era.  At the time however they were one revenue stream among many.

Precisely how Hall gravitated into theatrical still work in 1898-99 cannot be determined precisely.  His work depicting New York’s clubmen in their digs may have put him in contact with the sociable world of actors and managers.  Grumbling about Byron’s prices may have piqued Hall’s interest.  Friendly, fast, business like and witty in a typically New York manner, Hall had certain characterological advantages over the painstaking and temperamental Byron.  Managers liked him personally. One perhaps may have  suggested to Hall that he give flash picturing the stage a try.  At any rate, he took his first stage scenes in 1898—a Broadway musical about an incubator baby entitled “Spring Chickens”. In the following year he produced a memorable set of images for “Ben Hur” in competition with those generated by Byron.  Unqualified success only came after the turn of the century when he became the favorite cameraman of three important composers of musical comedities—Reginald DeKoven, Victor Herbert, and most importantly, George M. Cohan.  One reason that they preferred him to Byron was Hall’s more prosaic presentation of stage action. 

Hall had studied Byron’s images and adopted certain of his innovations—selenium toning, on-stage camera vantages, great depth of the visual field—yet one never has the sense that Hall selected his vantage to maximize the poetic effect of the image.  [Hall-Catch of the Season] Hall deferred to the directorial organization of bodies in space.  George M. Cohan, who rivaled David Belasco as a control freak, among earlier author-managers, particularly appreciated the fact that his calculated blocking of action was not revised in the quest for effect.  Hall’s angle views at the stage always assumed the vantage of some actual viewer in the house—see for instance his scene of the railway station in Cohan’s “Forty-five Minutes from Broadway.” [Hall: Fay Templeton]  As visual data concerning décor, costuming, and blocking the Hall image cannot be faulted.  Yet the illumination of the still in no way approximated that of the performance.  The flashlight flooded the stage so that features of the set, particularly the scrims and drops descending from the flies, that in theatre lighting blended into illusory landscapes and cityscapes appeared blatantly artificial.  The more fantastic the visual world being conjured in a production, the more likely it appeared flat and fake in a Hall picture because of his front glare lighting.  [Hall: "The Gingerbread Man”]  Byron used multiple flash-light sources on stages when he shot his stills, and so certain of the stills recreated the lights and shades of a performance.  Hall used complex lighting only rarely, and only in images of 1908-1912 when the aggressive marketing of Luther White of White Studios for the production photography trade forced Hall to upgrade his product. 

What caused the expansion of business?  While it is true that newspapers after 1903 began printing photographs as part of their entertainment coverage, the loss of detail in scene stills made editors prefer portraits of performers.  Magazines, particularly the national “slicks,” could print half tones with good fidelity, and Theatre Magazine (founded 1900) specialized in stage imagery.  Yet the greater willingness of managers to pay photographers for stage pictures arose from certain competition rituals that arose among the major producers in New York.  To memorialize hit productions, producers began publishing souvenir illustrated booklets.  In the 1890s the Frohman Brothers, David Belasco, and Charles Dillingham began expanding the broadsheet playbill to an illustrated booklet for select prestige productions.  Using images taken during the dress rehearsals, the first-nighter  could glimpse the characters in key situations as teasers in the booklet.  Providing these illustrations became the mark of being a first rank producer.

In 1902 the Newark, New Jersey court photographer Luther White decided to enter the flash light theater scene business.  Because several of his later employees resented his rather exploitative treatment of their talent, their testimonies about his background and beginnings tended to be malicious fictions. Ralph Shaklee said White knew nothing about photography, that he was a New York saloonkeeper who won a photographer’s studio in a card game, that he preyed on alcoholic camera men securing them as operatives whom he kept working by serving their addictions.  Pure fantasy.  White was a flash photographer who realized that money might be made serving the demands of the legal profession for photographs as evidence.  He appears intermittently in the public record in this capacity in the years before he made a name on Broadway--in in 1900, for instance, photographing the interior of the Morris Herman & Co. factory as part of the Molineaux murder trial.[xv]  In the 1930s White claimed to have invented flash photography an absurd conceit given the fame of his two predecessors in the profession.  Late in 1902 he makes his first stage pictures. 

Low price wedged him into the business at the bottom. He decided he would compete with Byron and Hall by offering service that they did not—studio portraiture as well as scene stills. Byron and Hall served the producers associated with the syndicate, the group of six theatrical managers who in 1896 imposed control over bookings in America.  White cast his lot with those who defied the Syndicate. His masterstroke was securing a contract with the Shuberts, the ambitious team of brothers from Syracuse who established a theatre empire in defiance of the monopolists.  Becoming the house photographer for the Shuberts, White had a security that neither of his rivals had, for they performed strictly on a job basis.  

Visually, the earliest years of White Studio production stills were entirely undistinguished, anonymously documentary.  Within the first five years, Luther White put aside cameras and became entirely absorbed in booking and billing the business. He hired a succession of journeyman camera operators to take stills.  White had a genius for making deals, promising to go anywhere in the United States to shoot a tryout run and guaranteeing overnight printing of images.  In 1907 he convinced Florenz Ziegfeld that the splendors of his Follies should be entrusted to his studio.  White’s assiduous deal making hurt Joseph Byron most, for the visual poet of the stage cared more for the art of the image than the black at the bottom of a ledger.  Much of the period from 1905 to 1910 saw Byron squabbling with his son and associate Percy Byron.  Yet his clear superiority as an image maker maintained a demand until 1909 when White secured the services of a Canadian flash light photographer with a strong sense of style.  George Lucas took Byron’s work as his model.  He played with distance; he toned his prints, he tried to make the backdrop of the stage not establish a wall parallel to the stage front. When producers could secure a quasi-Byron at a fraction of the price, White’s ambition did the rest. 

In 1910 while Byron was shooting “In the Palace of the King,” White offered to buy the theatrical end of his business.  Byron accepted, redirecting his energies to documenting New York City.  To demonstrate to the public that White Studio had absorbed the aesthetic sensibility of the photographer that it had bought out, George Lucas created the first series of masterworks under the White brand, a selenium tinted poetic series of images of Maude Adams fantasy, “Chantecler”. [White-MaudeAdams-Chantecleer-1911] For three years the aesthetic of White’s images was Byronesque, whether an ornately decorated drawing room drama such as “Clementine,” or a historical melodrama such as 1911’s “Held by the Enemy.” In 1913 Lucas put the toner away. Suiting his set up to the genre and décor of the production, he fashioned the eclectic, clearly focused style of White Studio.  Nightly for thirty years he shot stage pictures, a herculean effort that would be matched in the 20th century only by Tommy Vandamm in the 1920s to 1940s and Eileen Darby from the 1940s to the 1960s.  In 1915 Luther White hired Edward Thayer Monroe to take charge of the portrait business of the studio.  The aesthetic heyday of the brand. dates from the five year period 1915-1920 when both camera artists ran the image production side of White Studio.

Age brought an end to Joseph Hall’s efforts in the theatre. By 1912 he had worked as a professional for 45 years.  He cut back on jobs.  In 1915 he died.  His demise left White unchallenged as the chronicler of the stage in New York City.  Gilbert & Bacon photographed the occasional Philadelphia Show, Louis Mojonier shot productions on the West Coast, H. A. Atwell and George Moffett in Chicago.  But White exercised a near total monopoly on Broadway production photography until 1920, challenged only incidentally by Charlotte Fairchild and Ira D. Schwarz

[i] “The Brush Electric Light, Scientific American 44, 14 (April 22, 1881).

[ii] Henry Norman, An Account of the Harvard Greek Play (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1882).

[iii] The Houghton Library copy, uncatalogued, is shelved with the Theatrical Scene Stills Collection HTC29, Letter O. 

[iv] Specifications of the Russian Honeymoon photograph, British Journal of Photography Vol. 30 (1883), 339.

[v] A copy is found in the David A. Hanson Collection of the History of Photomechanical Reproduction, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.


[vi] Boston Herald (April 11, 1885); Soudan Souvenir Photo, Boston Herald (December 13, 1890). 

[vii] Daniel Frohman “Actress Aided by Camera,” The Cosmopolitan 22, 4 (February 1897), 413. 

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] John Hannavy, “Alfred Brothers,” Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography Vol. 1 (London: Routledge, 2007), 222

[x] Frederic Felix, “Photography of the Stage,” The American Annual of Photography 37 (1922), 179. Sadakichi Harmann, “Joseph Byron, The Stage is my Studio,” The Valliant Knights of Daguerre (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 239-40.

[xi] Frederic Felix, “Photography of the Stage,” The American Annual of Photography Vol. 37 (1922), 77-80.

[xii] In the 19th century the performance space was confined behind the proscenium with few exceptions. 

[xiii] William Winter, “Mrs. Leslie Carter,” The Wallet of Time 2 (New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1913), 329.

[xiv] Joseph Byron, Collection of Informally Posed Photographs of Well Known Actress, 1902-3,” Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs, Lot 3235 (F). 

[xv] “Man He Worked For,” Boston Herald, January 9, 1900, 2.

The Rise of the Stage Picture