Twice Told Tuesday - New York's Fickleness In The Matter Of Its Pictures
So, it seems, we have always been a nation that runs to "the next best thing." Fortunately time allows us to take a longer look with a more critical eye. Why they became popular, why their popularity died. So it is with photographers. New York has given us some wonderful photographers, including my favorite, Abraham Bogardus.
St. Louis and Canadian Photographer
Evidence of New York's fickleness of taste is found in the case of photographers. None of them remains in vogue more than a few years.
The average term of maximum popularity for a photographer is put at about eight years. For that time he may be the most popular artist in his line. Then others will arise and take his place.
Nobody has ever been able to explain just why one photographer suddenly becomes popular and seems for awhile to be the only one to whom New Yorkers go. Sometimes photographers come to New York from other cities, in which they have made a reputation. In other cases, they spend years in obscurity here and then are suddenly fortunate enough to attract favorable attention and become the fashion. Then their success is assured.
Not all the photographers who drop out of view cease to find the business profitable. Their large earnings come, of course while they are on the top wave of success, but in many cases' they retain their clientele, in part. In some cases, however, they disappear from the horizon altogether once they cease to be the fashion.
This experience befell a photographer with a foreign name who opened an atelier here several years ago. His French wife had been maid in a wealthy family here and he was able to. exhibit some well-known society women in the first showcase he put out on the avenue in front of his shop. He was the first of the photographers to pay especial attention to the dress of women. The women photographed by him all looked smart, although they also looked as much like one another as two peas. All the distinguishing lines in the face were eliminated and all the women were smooth, smug and extremely modish-looking.
For nearly five years that photographer had the largest patronage among the wealthy of any in town. After a while the turn came and he disappeared altogether. He was popular for only a short time, because there was really no merit in his pictures. He had the knack of making his women subjects look high bred and well dressed, but that was the sum of his merits. Even society could not long make a favorite of him under such circumstances.
Men was the specialty of another photographer who was very much the rage here for a while. Then he was suddenly dropped altogether and returned to England after trying to compel his former clients to buy the plates of their photographs.
This photographer nearly always posed his clients under a palm whose leaves fell gracefully over their heads. It was the palm leaves that finally caused his loss of popularity. His patrons grew weary of the sheltering palm, and as he could take them no other way he had to shut up his studio. Of the two photographers that stood fifteen years ago at the head of their profession one has retired altogether from business without even selling his name to a successor, and the other has retired and turned his business into a stock company. All the prominent photographers now are newcomers.
One of the most popular is the widow of a Belgian who came here several years ago and died after he had built up a large business, which his wife now carries on. Another is an American who began in London and came here three years ago.
He devotes himself to highly artistic- pictures and had a hard time to make his pictures popular at the outset. Now he is on the top wave of prosperity.
A woman who finds her pictures very much in demand was for years a milliner until she had accumulated capital enough to start in business as a photographer.
All of them know enough to charge high rates while they are in demand. The prices of the first-class photographers in this city are now 50 per cent more than they were ten years ago
N. Y. Sun.
St. Louis and Canadian Photographer. "New York's Fickleness In The Matter Of Its Pictures." January 1907.
Sarony, Napoleon, photographer. "Oscar Wilde." Cabinet Card. New York, c1892. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.07757 (accessed June 24, 2009).
Bogardus, Abraham, photographer. "[Andrew Johnson, half-length portrait, facing left.]" Cabinet Card. New York : A. Bogardus & Co., [between 1865 and 1880]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a32470 (accessed June 24, 2009).