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© David S. Shields

Photographers for Ziegfeld #6: Charlotte Fairchild_david Jun 18, '09 7:55 AM
by david for group historicalziegfeldgroup #091

The Bostonian socialite and artistic bohemian Charlotte Fairchild became a professional photographer when the death in 1915 of her patrician husband, John Cummings Fairchild revealed that the family fortune had evaporated. She moved to New York City, using her social connections to building a Blue Book clientele. A national reputation came almost overnight, when her images of a WW1 patriotic tableaux created by Ziegfeld collaborator Ben Ali Haggin created a sensation in the pages of the New York Times in October of 1918.

For the the next eight years she was the most active woman performing arts photographer in the country.

She had a penchant for experimental art theater, modern dance, and portraiture of the most intelligent and talented actresses. She had a nose for talent and could spot burgeoning stars before they won their reputation--witness the dance portrait of the 16-year old Harriet Hoctor below, five years before she would become a favorite Ziegfeld choreographer. Bessie McCoy Davis, in the 1919 Frolic broke out her famous Yama-Yama girl costume of a decade before, in a nostalgic dance reprise of Ziegfeld glories past. Fairchild adored Ina Claire, the brilliant actress and mime, and shot her repeatedly. Here she appears as Joan of Arc for a charity pageant.

Fairchild's unconventional ways got her in hot water with the papers in the mid-1920s. Yet she shrugged off criticism and went her own way, following Hindu mystics and marrying African-American war hero, Col. George Little, before dying suddenly of apoplexy of Little's Triangle Bar Ranch in Wyoming. Fairchild favored strong poses, dramatic lighting, and costume. She stands second, after Alice Boughton, and before Florence Vandamm, Eileen Darby, and Martha Swope in the great lineage of women photographic chroniclers of Broadway. David S. Shields

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