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© David S. Shields

Photographers for Ziegfeld #3: Frank E. Geisler    Jun 16, '09 10:04 AM
by david for group historicalziegfeldgroup #087

Frank E. Geisler had been a master photographer for two decades when Florenz Ziegfeld first hired him to photograph Gertrude Vanderbilt and other luminaries of his 1917 productions. A protege of the two master portraitists of Albany, NY, Pirie MacDonald and E. S. Sterry, Geisler had made a national reputation in exhibitions before the turn of the 20th century. He followed MacDonald to New York City and quickly established himself as a force in the celebrity image market, publishing regularly in the New York Times and in the national magazines by 1905.

During this time he developed the signature features of his style--the eradication of shadow on the features of his sitters, a preference for full-body portraiture, a tendency to center the subject in the image field, an avoidance of strong contrast. These inclinations made him a favorite fashion photographer of the era, and from 1910 to 1920, he vied with Joel Feder, Ira L. Hill, and Baron Adolph DeMeyer for the fashion plate market.

He was a particular friend of Lady Duff Gordon who was the probable go-between with Ziegfeld in 1917. Whenever Ziegfeld wished one of his performers to appear monumental, rather than elegant or beautiful, he dispatched her or him to Geisler's studio at 451 Fifth Avenue. When Ziegfeld began infatuated with Palm Beach, Florida, he convinced Geisler to remove from New York for the season. Geisler enjoyed the semi-tropical scene so much that relocated, becoming in the final decades of his life the first great photographer of American golf and a significant chronicler of the Resort moderne architecture springing up in 1920s Florida.

The sampling of images belows, shows the particular pictorial virtues that Geisler commanded. The 1922 image of Dolores from "Sally" may be the most telling photographic image conveying that magnificent model's visual impact. Sexy Kay Laurel's penchant for exhibitionism is tempered by the artfully arabesque pose for the Frolic image below. Edith Hallor of the 1917 Follies is shown in costumed splendor, Gertrude Vanderbilt with patrician serenity. David S. Shields

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