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Studio, Elite

Time Period: 
838 Market Street, San Francisco


A diversified portrait studio run by Paul Lotz in San Francisco, Elite Studio became with Louis Thors and Bushnell Studio the primary producer of celebrity portraits at the end of the 19th century. A. Tilmes served as business manager of the studio until 1905. T.H. Jones finished the negatives and oversaw developing and printing. For the first fifteen years of its existence, Elite Studio's theatrical department was run by Josh Davis (1847-1902), an Englishman, comic songster, and amateur actor, who worked as a camera operator in New York studios in the early 1880s before coming to California. He was known to most veterans of the theatrical profession in the 1890s.

In 1899 the collapse of a platform at Woodward's Pavilion incapacitated Davis. Lotz was forced to seek another person to handle the work. Boldly, he decided to hire a fine artist rather than an established portraitist. He found 19-year-old genius, Charles H. Anderson (1880-19??), a native of Tennessee trained at the Chambers School of Art in Nashville. Anderson painted the backgrounds used by the studio, designed costumes for sitters, and searched the cities for models. He not only handled celebrity shoots but took up Napoleon Sarony's explorations with "living pictures" staging famous paintings with live models in the studio to create photographic simulacra. The San Francisco Sunday Call magazine regularly featured his experiments in a gravure section.

Among the promotional arrangements that Elite engaged in to expand the public portrait side of its business was a partnership with the San Francisco Call in January 1905 to supply a free Paris panel portrait of any small scale advertiser in the paper upon submission of a coupon issued by the paper. 1905 was one of the final years in which card-backed portraits, such as Paris panels, had a following.

In 1906 Arthur Richardson purchased the studio. During his proprietorship, the studio turned away from theatrical portraiture. Charles H. Anderson became an independent photographer, exhibiting images under his own name.

NOTES: "A Wizard in the Field of Photography," San Francisco Sunday Call (January 19, 1902), 12. David S. Shields/ALS