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  • historicalzg - 1Reply
    I'm actually glad I have this opportunity to move the albums after looking at these. Such an array of fantastic portraits! Thanks so much, David.

© David S. Shields

Benjamin J. Falk Theater Portraits--1890s    Oct 9, '10 10:24 AM
by David for group historicalziegfeld #462


In the 1890s the dean of theatrical photographers, Napoleon Sarony, became bored with portraiture and redirected his immense energies into painted photographs. Sarony's son, Otto, superintended the sittings at the studio, and manifested markedly less imagination posing sitters than his father. Into this vacuum stepped Benjamin J. Falk, a student of George Rockwood, but a spiritual disciple of Sarony.

Falk's ambitions were immense. He organized his fellow professional camera artists into the Photographers Copyright Protection League, agitating for most of the legal protections for photographs secured in the decades following Sarony v. Burrow. The Gilded Age's demand for confectionary visions of feminine pulchritude were served in Falk's pictures of Broadway's leading ladies and chorus girls. Attuned to the latest developments in the fine arts, Falk posed his sitters a la mode. He had a particular talent for capturing soulful beauties and bumptious chorines.

The images below--all imperial cabinet cards--sample his women's portraits of the mid-1890s. One interloper is the comic photomontage of Renie Austen posing as the Statue of Liberty, commemorating the erection of Bertholdi's masterwork in the mid 1880s. All of these photos were taken in natural light under the skylights of his studio in the Waldorf Astoria. After the turn of the 1900 century, Falk, though the senior portraitist on Broadway, led the move to electric lighting.

A hallmark of his entire career was his employment of the latest technologies of printing, developing, and photographing images. He did not experiment much with papers. The finest of these images are exemplary expressions of the American belle epoque. His chief rival as a theatrical photographer in the 1890s was William McKenzie Morrison in Chicago. David S. Shields

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