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Richard H. Tucker, Jr.

Time Period: 


Dick Tucker in Boston, along with John F. O'Reilly in New York, pioneered the documentary photography of theatrical performances. Using a Leica camera with high shutter speed he captured shows as they took place using received light. His willingness to eschew the set ups standard to scene stills as taken by Tommy Vandamm, Alfredo Valente, and Ira D. Schwarz perhaps reflects his entry into theatrical photography from another field—architecture. It might also be because Tucker was partially crippled, and not as mobile as his contemporaries.

Tucker worked at design for seven years on both sides of the Atlantic, but the collapse of the economy in 1930 saw the evaporation of projects. He scarcely managed to support himself. He began taking in his spare moments photographs of theaters he attended. By 1933 he had mastered his peculiar kind of image, rich in shadow, from the audience member's POV. When he attempted to place the picture with editors in order to supplement his income, he was surprised to see that Town & Country, Stage, and Vogue were eager clients. Based in Boston, Tucker found that New York editors craved images from the tryout runs of productions scheduled to launch on Broadway.

While the primary body of material Tucker produced was composed of in-theater production shots, he also engaged in portraiture. These images were often shot on the theater premises in the spirit of James Abbe's portraits of 1919-22. Tucker maintained a home studio in his apartment at 26 Lime Street in the West End of Boston. But the studio was more a processing center than a sit and shoot gallery. The liabilities of using one's home as a processing center became apparent in June of 1949 when Tucker's apartment ignited, causing a two-alarm fire. A substantial portion of his negative collection was destroyed at this time.

Tucker's lens caught many of the important shows of the 1930s and 1940s. Richard Rodgers preferred to preview his shows in Boston, so Tucker's archive, housed in the Billy Rose Collection of the New York Public Library, contain a rich trove of images from several Rodgers productions. In addition, a number of Gershwin productions, Tennessee Williams' "A Street Named Desire," Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," and several Kurt Weil shows also appear in his archive.

NOTES: Dick Tucker, "Stage Shooting," Popular Photography (Mar 1945), 53; (a meditation on the practice of theatrical photography). David S. Shields/ALS