Photography in Chicago
Life Span: 1875
Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1875
Among the common virtues of the human race is the sentiment of gratitude to great and universal benefactors; though, like many other virtues, this magnificent instinct of remembrance is marred a little by an unfair concentration on a few names, mankind, generally thanking Franklin for electricity, Watt of Fulton for steam, Newton for astronomy, Moses for theology, Darwin for a true account of the origin of the species, and Daguerre for the modern portraiture of the human face through the instrumentality of the solar ray, whereas the truth is that every great modern art has an ancestry in science or in rude natural thought dating almost as far back as Mr. Darwin’s investigations for the discovery of the natural ancestry of man. Daguerre is simply entitled to the distinction of being one among thousands of observers and thinkers in the department of chemistry who were enabled by the application of scientific facts to manipulate the chemical phenomena produced by light, before regarded as intangible, immaterial, and evanescent, to practical, tangible, and permanent results. The Greeks knew something about the potency of the sun’s rays in relation to the permanent phenomena of color,—so did the Roman artists, while the alchemists of the thirteenth century discovered the change of color undergone by white chloride of silver exposed to light. In 1802, Wedgwood, the celebrated chemist, knew enough to soak paper in nitrate of silver and take profiles by the sun on that sensitive surface, which was, in fact, practicing photography. A few years later came Niépce, of Chalons, who was the first to copy and fix images in the camera obscura. But he was ignorant of the exquisite sensitiveness of iodide of silver, discovered by Daguerre, and persons who wanted to sit for portraits would have had to get up early in the morning and sit all day.
In 1829 Niépce and Daguerre became associated, their object being to pursue together their researches concerning light. In 1839 they succeeded in producing a picture on the silver plate which then went before the learned world and became known as the daguerreotype. Their pictures, however, were not properly fixed, and, to render such a thing as the daguerreotype art a business or success, another chemist, John Herschel, had to contribute his knowledge, and teach the great inventors to use hyposulfite of soda for fixing the picture in chloride-of-silver paper, rendering the copies completely unalterable by light.
From this date, 1840, picture-taking by this new process became one of the industries i every city of the civilized world, and
the benefits of this great modern art were offered to the public in a rude, aboriginal fashion within eight years after the publication of the discovery in France. During the first few years pictures were taken generally out of doors, and by a process that required endurance and patience like a dental operation. The best work done in those days were the ivory miniature; and the popular photograph of the present day was unknown for years. But as improvements were gradually introduced, and the novelty of this cheap but true human-likeness was converted into actual popularity, artists of skill and enterprise began to devlop the business, the primitive picture-shanties gave way to comfortable daguerrean galleries, improvements were gradually introduced, and, in 1851, Alexander Hesler, a Chicago artist, received his first premium for work at the World’s Fair at New York. The interest has since developed with a rapidity unparalleled in any other department of industry, until the business, at the present time, is represented in seventy-eight galleries, giving employment to 300 operatives, and representing a large capital aside from large wholesale stock-dealers, and a special commercial business in photographs and pictures. There is probably no other city in the world where the photographic art has attained a higher degree of efficiency and practical perfection or where a higher order of intelligence, enterprise, and skill are exercised in the interest of the art, than in Chicago, several of our leading galleries being, it is claimed, unsurpassed either in the mechanical outfit and accessories or in the exhibitions of elaborate and finished work, by any of the Eastern or European establishments.1
Some of the Modern Features that indicate the development of the interest in Chicago, include the publication of a leading scientific monthly periodical devoted exclusively to the art,—to which the profession are indebted to the intelligence and thoughtful enterprise of Charles W. Stevens, perhaps the most extensive importer, manufacturer, and dealer in the West, engaged exclusively in the handling of supplies; an extensive manufacturing establishment,—that of Messrs. Taft & Schwamb,—devoted to the manufacture of picture-frames in all the varieties required in photography, with a capacity for supplying this important class of merchandise in quantities adequate to the supply of all photographers between Chicago and California, and between St. Paul and New Orleans; an extensive general trade in the merchandise pertaining to the business and a large number of educated artists engaged exclusively in finishing portraits in the various styles and colors.
A Photographic Book.
A great many interesting, instructive, and valuable items, incidents, and statistics relating to the history of photography since it became one of the interests of art and of commerce throughout the country, are given in a neat little pamphlet volume published by an eminent member of the profession in Chicago,—Mr. Charles D. Mosher,—entitles, “Half an Hour’s Chit-Chat With My Friends,” dedicated to his friends and patrons, and largely devoted to reminiscences of his professional life.
At E.L. Brand & Co’s photographic art-gallery, No. 596 Wabash avenue, may be seen specimens of this class of work which illustrate the development and relative perfection if the art, and express in a new and impressive manner the glory of this great modern discovery; full-size portraits finished in all styles and colors,—crayon, oil, India ink, pastel, and water colors,—reproducing the human face, form, and presence with wonderful precision and accuracy, and with faithful adherence to the permanent laws of art, several of the specimens actually representing a value equal to the entire photographic outfit and business of the city during the first year of the history of the art in Chicago. This establishment, by old association and the historic interest and popular patronage naturally incident to old-time institutions, has some features of a public and representative character, and is commonly instanced in illustration of the photographic art in Chicago from its rude beginnings to its present flourishing and perfected state. Mr. Brand first engaged in the business in Chicago in 1857, and has contributed a large share of the capital, enterprise, and professional skill which have entered in the history and growth from the art from the time that it became one of the prominent industries of the city. For a period of about eleven years his first establishment at 108 and 110 Lake street, constituted a sort of popular headquarters for all the improvements and novelties developed in the primitive days of the business, in ambrotypes, ferrotypes, and all the old-fashioned miniatures, and the successive improvements in photography, till the completion of Brand’s famous Temple of Art, No. 28 Washington street, where he relocated March 25, 1868, and which till its destruction in the general conflagration of Chicago, constituted one of the features and public attractions of the city,—the daily resort of throngs of visitors,—claimed to have been, in architecture, decoration, and furniture, costly attractions of art, and general mechanical equipment and outfit, the finest establishment of the kind in the world. It was at this magnificent Temple of Art that Mr. Brand introduced the true method of assigning to the several branches or departments of the photographic-work special artists of the highest professional skill and attainments, for exclusive attention to respective branches,—a special artist for each of the departments respective branches,—a special artist for each of the departments respectively of printing, retouching, crayon, water and oil colors, positioning, operating, etc.,—a measure and method of business still adhered to by the firm at the Wabash avenue photographic gallery, and which has resulted here, as the old Temple of Art, in the production of a class of portraits and pictures which has established a local frame and developed the immense popular patronage of the establishment.
The general outfit and equipment in mechanical apparatus at E.L. Brand & Co.’s is said also to be unsurpassed at any of the famous galleries of London, Paris, and New York, an item of which—a single instrument for life-sized plates at an expense of $1,000, and said to be the only “8D.” Delmeyer in the United States—is instanced as an illustration of the improvements in the mechanical department of photography in our city. Among the notable specimens of art that embellish the walls of the main parlors of the gallery is a $700 picture,—a full-length, life-size photograph, in crayon, of the late Mrs. J.C. PAtterson, taken in her wedding attire, and highly prized by friends, both as an eaquisite work of art and as a faithful likeness of that estimable lady. The exhibition includes also an endless variety of small pictures, porcelain miniatures, in various forms and styles, cartes de visites, Brand’s “Souvenir” portraits, cabinet or imperial, etc., the same minute attention to the details of art being equally conspicuous in all the work exhibited in the gallery.
Notable Improvements in Photography.
Of those who have attained local prominence in the profession by contributions of valuable improvements to the art, is E.D. Ormsby, proprietor of the well-known West Side gallery, 309 West Madison street,—formerly associated with the profession in San Francisco,—who located in Chicago immediately after the fire, introducing before this community the distinct and characteristic San Francisco style of photographic portraiture, which immediately took strong hold upon popular favor by the wonderful clearness and brightness of the style, incident to precise and delicate effects in the natural blending of light and shade. Ormsby’s gallery has already developed into one of the popular and permanent institutions of the West Side, with a first-class patronage, largely from the cultivated classes, represented to an aggregate of 9,000 negatives since the fire. The establishment is elaborate and modern in its appointments, apparatus, and accessories of the art, a ful share of attention being given to the higher grades of pictures and to the special departments of retouching, finishing in oil, water colors, etc., making a special feature of the beautiful new picture finished in pastel.
Cross & Carson’s New Gallery.
The large first-class photographic gallery recently established by Messrs. Cross & Carson (J. Carson, F.H. Cross), 224 and 226 State street, was inaugurated under unusually favorable auspices and conditions, which guarantee its success as one of our permanent institutions of photography. Both gentlemen are known as accomplished and skilled artists. Mr. Carson was for eight years with E.L. Brand, and Mr. Cross for several years with another of our leading establishments. The equipment, furniture, mechanical outfit, and general accommodations of the new gallery are elaborate and complete, and an honest class of work in all departments of photography may be relied on.
Pacific Hotel Ruins
Among establishments of comparatively recent organization that have merited a liberal share of popular patronage by an excellent class of photographic work is that of Mr. J.H. Abbott, 150 State street. Mr. Abbott conducts the business with the material advantage of about twenty-five years’ practical experience, having been long known as the leading photographer of Albany, N.Y. His specialty is the regular Berlinfinish photograph and fine India-ink pictures.
A.E. Willis & Co.
Another of the modern-style photographic galleries, where is seen the difference between the finished work of the present and the dim miniatures of the primitive days, is the new studio and galleries of A.E. Willis & Co., very centrally located, on the northwest corner of State and Madison (Dore Block). The gallery was established two years ago, is first-class in all its appointments, turns out first-class work in all varieties, and has already grown into popular favor.
The Great Conflagration of Chicago.
October 8th and 9th, 1871
William Shaw, Photographer
Shaw’s Gallery—Special Features of Photography.
Among those of our photographic artists whose connection with the business dates back to the practical commencement of photography in Chicago, is William Shaw, No. 148 State street, whose acquaintance with the trade and the older population of the city is almost universal, his ancient establishment on Clark street, near Monroe, having been for fifteen years, and from the primitive days of the art down to the date of the conflagration, the permanent headquarters of a considerable portion of the community for all that was in vogue in the old styles of daguerrean portraits. Although still practicing photography in all its details, Mr. Shaw has made a specialty—in which he has achieved reputation and success—of object photographing,—the photographic copying or portraiture of objects and forms, machinery, mechanical implements, articles of merchandise, architectural plans, etc., mainly for commercial purposes. His equipment in this line is very complete, and includes upwards of forty costly instruments and implements, a collection of upwards of twenty years.
The Æsthetic Side of Photography.
Among those of the professional photographers of Chicago who have given long and patient years to the study and development of the industry in its æsthetic bearings, and who, aside from the commercial treatment and practice of their profession, have been persistent in their efforts to elevate photography from simple mechanical drudgery to the dignity and purity of art, is Mr. H. Rocher, whose establishment at No. 724 Wabash avenue (before the fire No. 88 North Clark street) has been since the date of the great improvements and the inauguration of the new era in the business, a favorite and most attractive resort for the polite and cultivated classes of the community, practically or theoretically interested in the development of photography as a true department of art. Notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Rocher gives personal and careful superintendence to the entire work of the establishment, and that no incomplete, imperfect, half-finished, or blemished pictures are permitted to pass his hands either from the hurry of business or intentional negligence of subordinates, or to satisfy a false and ignorant taste, some idea of the magnitude of the patronage of art in Chicago at the present day may be formed from the fact that Rocher’s business, which, by common acknowledgement is strictly first-class in every department, and after the highest principles of the art, is represented in 9,200 negatives since the fire alone, a large proportion of the negatives being special orders for the finest, most finished, and most elaborate pictures.
In regard to the character of the standard and general work done by Rocher, it will be remembered that something of the lustre of renown was conferred upon his name as an artist by the award made in his favor of the medal of merit at the grear Vienna Exposition in 1873, while the portraits of both Booth, Miss Bateman, Maggie Mitchell, Miss Kellogg, and other distinguished persons taken by him, are recognized by their friends as the most satisfactory likenesses of those persons that they have been able to secure in any section of the world.
Gentile’s——Some Famous Portraits.
The centrally-located and very accessible establishment of Gentile, the eminent portrait and landscape photographer, in Hale’s beautiful building, southeast corner of State and Washington streets, opposite Field, Leiter & Co.’s, a convenient and popular down-town resort, deserves prominent mention among our modern galleries of genuine art, where the principles of photography have been practiced with taste and artistic culture in distinction from mere mechanical skill. The studios and gallery, which are located on the upper floors, made instantly accessible by a model water-balance elevator, are decorated with a multitude of gems in every branch and department of the photographic art, illustrating the style and character of work done under the superintendence of a true artists, and including a score or two of photograohic portraits, ranging from one-half to full-size plain or finished, and colored in oil, India ink, or water colors, some of which, as the magnificent plain portrait of Salvini, the great Italian actor, have attained to more than local celebrity. One of the features at Gentile’s is the finishing of photographs in oil,—a branch of work of great interest and importance that promises to rank as a most important department of the art. Perhaps no more impressive idea of the growth of photography in Chicago during the past twenty years could be obtained than by a visit to Gentile’s.
Foreign Reputation of a Chicago Artist.—C.D. Mosher
Among the largest, finest, and most famous galleries is that of Mr. C.D. Mosher, 951 Wabash avenue, being the only building in the city of like magnitude devoted wholly to the accommodation of the several departments of the art,—a handsome three-story brick, the first floor, which is richly furnished, constituting the grand reception-room; the second, the operating room; the third, the artist’s studio and finishing rooms. Mr. Mosher’s career as an artistic photographer, covering a period of over a quarter of a century, twelve years of which has been with the people of Chicago, has been one of unsurpassed prosperity, and within the past five years has given a local and foreign distinction to his name. His beautiful sun-pictures are among the household treasures of the first families of our city, and there are thousands who believe their family groups of photos would be incomplete unless taken by this great modern artistic photographer, whose well-earned and self-made reputation has extended not only throughout America but to England and Europe. The soft lighting and shadow effects effects of the old masters of Europe, and draw expressions of praise from their great art-journals, and from thousands of private letters. No more vivid conception can be obtained of the infinite growth and improvement of this most useful, most practical, and most interesting of the arts during the past twenty-five years than from a study of the magnificent gallery of the portraits of famous persons that adorns the pleasant and hospitable reception-room at Mosher’s.
The West Side.—Alfred Hall
The gallery of Mr. A. Hall, 217 West Madison, for many years before the fire one of the popular down-town establishments, located at 122 Lake street, exhibits the most general variety of photographic work, from card pictures of the ordinary size to the full-size portrait, finished in the several styles of crayon, oil, water colors, etc.,—fine portrait work of the larger class having been for several years past a specialty of the establishment. Mr. Hall’s education as an artist includes a practical experience of about twenty-seven years, enjoying, aside from the advantage of a thorough knowledge of the art, the elements of a great personal popularity, and the advantage of a very wide acquaintance. His relations to the profession are indicated in the fact that he has held the office of President of the Photographic Association since that society had an existence.
The West Side claims among its popular institutions a photographic gallery representing a larger general patronage, calculated by simple numerical computation, than any similar institution in the United States,—that of H.W. Loveday’s Blue Island avenue,—whose gallery, architecturally designed and constructed for photographic purposes, is the centre of the interest for a very large district of the city, and whose accumulation of negatives in six years’ experience number the enormous aggregate of 40,583, a large proportion of his work being for societies, churches, family-groups, etc., a single order from Jesuit Church on one occasion numbering 9,000 pictures. Although filling large orders in his Rembrandt or Berlin finish card work, Mr. Loveday makes a point in keeping even with the times in the larger and more expensive class of finished portraits.
There is no name among our local photographic artists of culture and repute that is the subject of a wider personal popularity, or that has been more intimately and constantly associated in the households of our city wiyth the art and business of photography, for a long period of years, than that of Mr. J. Battersby, 357 West Madison street. Mr. Battersby achieved a special and rare distinction at the outset, eighteen years ago, as our champion “baby-picture” artist,—a matter that forever settled the question of successful photography among the ladies,—and it would require an ox-team to haul the negatives of the little innocents that in two generations have graciously sat for their pictures at the old and well-remembered gallery 62 North Clark street, and the present modern-style establishment on West Madison street. In point of artictic merit Mr. Bathersby’s work in plain photography and finished portraits ranks with the best and latest productions of the photographic art.
On the North Side.
The North Side community enjoys the advantages of photography in the modern form and style of the art in a first-class gallery conducted by Frank A. Orr, 90 North Clark street. Portraits finished in all colors.
The business of supplying the photographer, or those whose calling, by aid of the camera, is to “Secure the shadow ere the substance fades,” has come to be one of considerable magnitude in the commercial world. It embraces a large number of firms and individual manufacturers, importers and dealers, and, aside from home-productions, draws contributions for supplies from France, Germany, and England. The amount of capital invested in the United States by the manufacturers and dealers in this particular line aggregates $3,000,000, and gives employment to thousands of persons. For, aside from the large number of regular galleries and studios, there are several establishments in the city devoted exclusively to copying pictures of the living and dead, enlarging, adding the finish of the artist in India ink, water-color, and oil,—and all this vast system of local establishments, together with a large proportion of those throughout a vast territory of the Northwest, draw their supplies from houses in Chicago devoted to this special department of commerce. And all this vast number of local establishments, together with others East, West, North, and South, draw their supplies from houses in our city devoted to catering to their especial wants. In this connection may be mentioned the establishment popularly known as the
Great Central Depot,
Charles W. Stevens, proprietor, occupying the extensive four-story marble-front building 158 State street, erected by Judge Otis for his business. The second floor is occupied by the offices, and for storage, exposition and sale of camera tubes, camera boxes, frames, apparatus, stationery, and general requisites used in photography. The next floor is used for the storage of an immense stock of frames, and contains also the chemical laboratory where are manufactured, under the superintendence of skilled chemists and photographers, the collodions and other proprietary goods necessary in the art. The fourth floor is used as a storeroom for goods in bulk, apparatus, imported goods, which include glass, porcelain ware, and chemicals, the necessary capital required to fill the several floors being over $40,000. Mr. Stevens, to whose enterprise and extraordinary personal energy the development and success of photography is in a large measure indebted, was the founder, and still remains the publisher and proprietor of the Western Photographic News, the only publication in the Northwest in this great interest, ranking among the leading journals of the world devoted to that art and industry. It is conducted under the editorial management of Gayton A. Douglas, Enq., with an able corps of assistants, and has already attained a circulation of over 2,000.2
Though still a young man in point of years, Mr. Stevens has held his present prominent position in the trade during a period of many years. He first inaugurated business as a wholesale dealer in 1865, at No. 150 Dearborn street, his career being distinguished from the beginning by the same vigorous enterprise that has rendered the great Central depot a popular resort of the profession interested in the improvements that are added from time to time to the accessories of the art by the inventive genius of the world, as well as the headquarters for standard supplies for photographers throughout the Northwest.
LEFT: Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin, March, 1873
RIGHT: Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin, December, 1875
Enormous Growth of the Business.
Some idea of the business development of this trade in photographic aspparatus and supplies, and of its present prominence and importance as one of the special departments of commerce, may be gathered from statistics of this business as conducted at the manufacturing and wholesale depot of Messrs. J.P. Bears & Co., established less than three years ago at 155 State street, on a moderate and quiet scale, and now requiring to meet the demands of an established patronage three entire floors of the capacious building No. 48 East Madison street. The wise and successful theory of the firm has been to secure the element of permanence and popularity to their trade, and to encourage the voluntary patronage of the profession, by pushing the introduction of the purest chemicals and the best selections of photographic merchandise, as, for example, the new nonpareil or alpha plates, easily made and more beautiful than the famous porcelain. The firm, like others of our prominent dealers, have in this way established the reputation of having the interests of patrons honestly and thoughtfully before them, and have met with great encouragement. The establishment id now regularly divided into three general and separate departments—first floor, the lighter class of photographic merchandise; second floor exclusively to apparatus; the third to manufacturing. Country photographers when in the city are always sure of a hearty welcome at J.P. Beard & Co.’s.
Rice & Thompson.
Messrs. Rice & Thompson, No. 259 Wabash avenue, in addition to an old and very extended traffic in frames, moldings, mirrors, engravings, chromos, etc., are also widely and favorably known as importers and wholesale dealers in all kinds of photographic materials. The business of the firm occupies the entire space of the immense five-story edig=fice of whih they are proprietors.
Walnut Frames——The Manufacturing Interest.
One of the most interesting and most important of the industries accessory to the photographic art in Chicago is the great factory of Taft & Schwamb (J.W. Taft, Frederick Schwamb), located corner of Nineteenth and Blackwell streets, now turning out te bulk of the prevailing walnut frames used by the artists of Chicago and the Northwest, with a general trade extending from Maine to California, The firm was organized eight years ago at No. 490 South Canal street, with a force of eight workmen. To supply the trade has in that time been developed, a force of eighty-five mechanics, skilled in the several departments of the work, is required, in addition to a steam force and an expensive and complicated system of machinery and apparatus equal to that of a first-class planing and turning mill. This is claimed by our dealers to be the largest frame factory in the country, and is devoted exclusively to walnut-work in endless forms and styles of finish, turning out nothing but the very best work produced, and in which all that is new and novel, in style or design, is promptly introduced. It is universally conceded to have met and satisfied one of the most important demands of Western commerce.
The general trade in artists’ and painters’ materials, including such items as prepared canvas, oil sketching papers, oil colors, water colors, crayon papers, brushes, all kinds of gilders’ materials, English and French graining tools, and artists’ supplies,—not limited to photography,—is mainly represented by P.M. Almini & Co., No. 246 State street, importers and wholesale dealers. The firm make a feature of fresco work and ornamental painting, keeping constantky in employ a large force of artists and filling orders for fresco work and decorative painting from distant points throughout the country. The firm are the largest dealers in artists’ materials in the West.
The Publication of Stereoscopic Views.
The stereoscopic depot of Messrs. Lovejoy & Foster, 88 State street, is an institution of special public interest, supplying the community with endless stereoscopic portraiture of all subjects of life and nature throughout the world.
Edwards’ Directory of the City of Chicago for 1866 (About 50 Studios)
The Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago for 1875-6 (About 80 Studios)
1 Based on requirements established by the Bureau of International Expositions (1921), Dublin and New York held exhibitions in 1853, however, these were more local events and did not qualify as World Expositions.
2 Inter Ocean, July 11, 1874—”The first number of the Western Photographic News, a journal of practical photography, published by Charles W. Stevens, 158 State street, made its appearance yesterday. Typographically it is a gem, and judging from the contents, it will prove of especial interest to photographers everywhere. A motion was then made that the Western Photographic News and Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin be declared the official organs of the National Photographic Association, instead of the Photographer.”