Created from vlad's albums in the Magazines section:
An amazing amount of work! Thanks, vlad.
I added a few others and added the alternate name spellings, the names of the shows, and some ref pics.
2016 Aug 6: This section is heavily in work - trying to move some of the new stuff in. Will be transferring the old albums from HZ and HZG on Multiply here as well. Pardon my mess. jane
Alfred Cheney Johnston (ACJ) Photos, Magazines, Articles, Newspaper, Books
ACJ's Autochromes 1917 Collectors Photography 06-1987 (John, gilesnemeton) Feb 1, '09 6:21 PM
Thanks once again to John for generously sharing from his personal collection. This is the first time I've seen the whole set of these beautiful autochromes and the first time I've seen any of them at this size.
John's included both the full magazine page followed by the crop with just the photo. Thanks so much! Gorgeous!!!
Alfred Cheney Johnston and Movie Publicity: 1919 Jul 24, '09 3:41 PM
by David for group Historical Ziegfeld Group #135
It 1919 Selznick Pictures began an intensive print campaign of promotional exploitation for Olive Thomas and Elaine Hammerstein. Both were Broadway beauties being built into stars. Selznick's New York publicity office secured the services of Alfred Cheney Johnston, who had shot both during their stage careers, and Samuel Lumiere, a Russian-born portraitist who could produce a quality image at a cheaper price than ACJ. Already famous for his Ziegfeld Follies pictures, Johnston established a reputation as an artistic portrayer of female motion picture stars. (Selznick hired Strauss-Peyton to shoot Eugene O'Brien, the studio's male lead.) The key images of the campaign were published in Moving Picture World, a trade periodical for motion picture industry people. Almost immediately other studios approached Johnston's for one-offs. Evelyn Greely for Apfel Productions, Mary Miles Minter for Realart, Mollie King for American Cinema Corporation, and Marion Davies for whatever company was filming her. Other of the Broadway photographers were approached for film work. James Abbe's career as a film photographer is well recognized. Less well known is Ira L. Hill's ventures into film publicity. The image of Alice Brady in "Redhead" is quite poetic. Excuse the scan quality, since these were taken off microfilms of newsprint half-tone images. David S. Shields
Some New ACJs, Olive Thomas, Etc from Moving Picture World March 1919 by jane for group historicalziegfeld Oct 14, 2012
Ran across a MOMA post of this magazine on Internet Archive while searching for info on Edna Giblyn so I grabbed a few images from it. I had to pull myself away and back to the NEAs ... just the sort of distraction that leads me to not finish anything.
So I only got a few pics from that issue. There are loads of issues there. If someone would pick up all of these mags, name the pics and upload them into a Moving Picture World group album on the new K and S site, that would be lovely.
Under M of course here:
Alfred Cheney Johnston in Photoplay 1920 Aug 10, '09 9:59 PM
by David for group Historical Ziegfeld Group #142
As I have suggested in an earlier posting, Alfred Cheney Johnston became increasingly involved with motion picture publicity portraiture in 1919-1920. After doing promotion photography for Selznick Pictures and appearing regularly in Moving Picture World, ACJ became fashionable in the eyes of studio press agents and motion picture magazine editors. This fascination culminated in a series of exclusive portraits published in autumn of 1920 in Photoplay. His next move would be to go to Hollywood with director A. Dwan to work as artistic director of "A Perfect Crime."
ACJohnston… and Miss Amateur Bather's Revue Jan 18, '11 8:51 AM
by Vlad for group historicalziegfeld (Multiply)
[includes ID for ACJ photos of Margaret Davis]
“... in the final competition for the Golden Mermaid.
Another prize a silver seashell will go to tho loveliest amateur not among the Inter city beauties…”
Palm Beach Post, 2 September 1923
Miss America 1921
Amateur = Margaret Gorman (Miss Washington, D.C.), Watkins Trophy
Amateur Bather’s Revue = Mazie Saunders
Miss America 1922
Amateur = Gladys Grenemeyer / Greenmayer / Greenamyer / Greenameyer (West Philadelphia)
Miss America 1923
Amateur Bather’s Revue = Ruth Malcomson
"Ruth Malcomson won a Silver Sea Shell as the winner of the amateur division in the 1923 Bather's Revue.
Offered a job by the late Florenz Ziegfeld, she watched one rehearsal, prudently decided against a stage career."
Miss America 1924
Amateur Bather’s Revue = Lillian Mae Erbe (Philadelphia)
“The seashell for the outstanding amateur beauty was won by miss Lillian Erbe of Philadelphia”
(c) New York Times, 6 September 1924
Miss America 1925
Amateur = ?
Miss America 1926
Amateur = ?
Miss America 1927
Amateur = ?
Collector's Photography April 1987 ACJ, Ziegfeld Follies (John, gilesnemeton) Jul 18, '08 11:48 AM
Another great donation from John who is always willing to share his personal collection of great magazines and other finds with us. Thanks so much, John!
Flo Kennedy, Anna Buckley, Ernestine Myers (not E. Meyers as shown), Virginia Biddle, Albertina Vitak, Virginia Snyder, Myrna Darby, Katherine Burke, and Hazel Forbes.
Alfred Cheney Johnston photographs from Picture Play magazine. Issues Jan 1922, Apr 1922, Jun - Sep 1922, Dec 1922, Jan - Apr 1923.
Dorothy Wegman: ACJ's Thoughts on Nudes in Films (profdash) May 6, '09 8:30 PM
When David generously sent these to be posted he said, "The 2 Dorothy Wegman illustrations with the piece are interesting because they are front the same shoot, one with a plain background, the other with a painted on the negative ACJ standard background."
This is from Film Fun March 1924 and from David's personal collection. Appreciate all of your sharing here very much, David.
ACJohnston... and International Beauty Contests of 1926-1927
by Vlad for group historicalziegfeld Oct 23, 2011
Hazel Forbes (Froidevoux)
Jacqueline Schally (Schalley)
Mae McMasters Cooke
Mary Louise Keck
Enchanting Beauty 1939 ACJ (John, gilesnemeton) Jun 7, '07 7:19 AM
By request, scanned and donated by John from his personal book collection - thank you!!! Some light water damage and 5 pages missing.
ACJ Sets Up Connecticut Studio 1949_vlad 2013 Oct 5
I'd asked about this a week or so ago to date some of the tapestry photos. Here is the answer in a clipping
Transcribed by Otto, thanks!
Follies’ Star Glorifier Sets Up EIm City Studio
By IRWIN M. ALPERT
WORLD - FAMOUS PHOTOGRAPHER Alfred Cheney Johnston has set up shop at New Haven studio, emerging from retirement after nine years. He photographed every Ziegfeld Follies beauty from 1918 to 1931, when Follies ended.
One of the greatest portrait photographers in the world, emerging from a nine-year retirement, has set up shop in New Haven to prove that, with a fresh star, success can be achieved twice in a lifetime.
Alfred Cheney Johnston, the man who made the Ziegfeld beauty famous and photographic portraiture an art, is raring for fresh fields to conquer even though his reputation is still at its peak from past performance.
In his newly-opened studio on West Rock Av., not unlike glamorous Hollywood set in its roominess and floodlight-studded ceilings, Johnston hopes to equal, if not surpass, the triumphs he gained as photographer to royalty, society and Broadway’s loveliest show girls before withdrawing to his Oxford farm just prior to the war.
FULL OF IDEAS
He is 54 now and as full of ideas as when he was plucked from obscurity 31 years ago by Florenz Ziegfeld to be exclusive photographer of the Follies’ beauties. He hardly looks the part. Studying his simple features and heavy build you might take him for a farmer or a businessman rather than a sensitive artist.
His fame stems chiefly from............................................. and advertising industries followed. Like a woman forced to tell her age, Johnston laughingly disclosed he photographed such oldtime screen vamps as Theda Bara, Mae Murray and Marie Prevost.
Among the Ziegfeld girls whose beauty he placed before the universal eye are Billy Burke, Gladys Glad, wife of the late Mark Hellinger, Mazel Forbes, Naomi Johnson and Paulette Goddard.
He has probably photographed more debutantes and society dowagers than any photographer living, Princess Nina of Greece, Duchess de Richelieu and a host of Goulds and Vanderbilts have posed before his sensitive lens.
His shots make a woman appear more beautiful than she is, while still retaining her likeness. “There is no absolutely homely person” he said, “but something lovely in everyone. It’s that some thing ve try to distill and permanently capture in the photo........"
Alfred Cheney Johnston: Remarks on the Female Body_profdash by David for group historicalziegfeld Jan 24, 2012
From the unpublished memoir, "I Never Wore Tights."
Cheney had come from six years as an art student—with the firm conviction that a woman’s body was beautiful. “In 1917, women didn’t display their bodies—except on stage,” he recalls. “It just wasn’t’ fashionable. On the other hand, you were just wasting time and plates if you tried to make interesting or artistic photographs of them in those horribly over-decorated gunnysacks they wore as clothes. One of Ziegfeld’s requirements was that a girl must have a beautiful figure. From the first day I went to work for him, I determined I was not going to hide those figures. I didn’t. Instead, I draped them. Revealingly, of course. If I hadn’t draped them that way, I might just as well have photographed them in their hideous street clothes.
“But, you know, there is such a thing as taste. I’ve never been interested in making lewd photographs. On the other hand, I’ve always believed that if a woman had a beautiful body, it would be shown. That’s why I’ve always used the simplest of drapes. Effectively, tastefully, of course; but never as an excuse for lewdness nor for covering up a beautiful figure.
Clothes which hid, and corsets which distorted, beautiful figures had never been part of his art training. He saw no reason to make them part of his photographs. . .
His simplest drape is, of course, a single sheath of black lace, which he has used effectively in many of his photographs. “A piece of black lace, a curtain ring as earring, a mirror, tambourine or palette” were all he needed, or wanted, to drape a beautiful figure. To these simple elements he added the genius of his interpretation, through his camera, in order to produce striking, fresh, unique photographs.
His favorite drape had always been a single strip of black velvet. He has used it again and again, in many ways: sometimes to disguise a sharp elbow, sometimes to accentuate the soft curves of a beautiful back, but always he has used it both artfully and artistically.
When he girst began working with black velvet, his colorblind plates did not reproduce the folds to suit him. The highlights were too brilliant. Disgussted, he threw the offending velvet on the studio floor, whent back to his sheath of black lace, a gamine costume of torn pants, shirtwaist and hat, or an old, ragged dress. This latter costume soon acquired a unique aura. “It was claimed that anyone photographed in that ragged old dress would become a movie star.
Eventually he sent the velvet to be dry cleaned; tried again. Much his satisfied amazement, the folds recorded much more softly on his dry plates. “Don’t use velvet fresh, as you have bought it,” he advises. “Throw it onto the floor, kick it around for a while. Then have it dry cleaned and you’ll find it will be your best, most versatile drape.
I have included images below of the black lace, the drape, and the gamine outfit. But I ask Group members to propose which dress is meant as the 'ragged dress." David S. Shields
Alfred Cheney Johnston, Photography Magazine, March 1951_otto 30 August 2013
Photography Magazine, March 1951
Alfred Cheney Johnston - THE AMATEUR Who Glorified the ZIEGFELD GIRL
This photographer had a flair for glamour - a camera specialty that skyrocketed him to fame in the tumultous Twenties
By Arthur J. Busch
In the autumn of 1918 Alfred Cheney Johnston was an unknown amateur photographer and art student at the National Academy of Design. Six months later, such were those fabulous times, he had skyrocket to fame as a professional photographer devoted to the job of glorifying the Ziegfeld girls.
From amateur to famous professional in six months strains credulity to the breaking point today, but at the end of World War I the United States was fixing for an era of "wonderful nonsense" as incredible as any Arabian Nights talke. The circumstances in New York were right, the stage was being set, and there were enough astonishing characters behind the scenes to produce miracles at the drop of a hat. Like Peter Pan, Alfred Cheney Johnston, with a wire hooked to the back of his pants, was given wings with which he soared to fame.
And lucrative fame it was, too, in an age of piddling income taxes; for today Johnston, in his early fifties, is living in happy retirement on a country estate hight on a hill in Oxford, Conn., where between garden chores and luxurious loafing he finds plenty of time for - you guessed it, photography. Now, instead of Ziegfeld show girls, he enjoys himself in glorifying local Connecticut lovelies.
In all those years Johnston has not changed. Back in 1918 as a young amateur he had been taking pictures of his friends, specializing even then in photographing beautiful girls. One of his pretty girl subjects knew somebody who knew Florenz Ziegfeld, fabulous producer of the Ziegfeld Follies. Now Ziegfeld was an impulsive and a grandiose man who, when he saw one of Johnston's photographs, summoned the young man to his presence and thereupon offered him the job of official photographer for the Follies.
Being a young man of acumen as well as talent, Johnston, though his heart was certainly thumping violently, was not too overwhelmed by the Ziegfeld largess to impose a condition on the great impressario's proposition. He does not know what divine inspiration possessed him at the time, but somehow he managed to tell Ziegfeld that he would accept the job on condition that all photographs published carry the Alfred Cheney Johnston credit line. Ziegfeld agreed. Thereafter every photograph of a voluptuous Ziegfeld beauty printed in the newspapers and magazines of the world carried Johnston's credit line. The demand for free cheesecake was obviously tremendous and in six months the young man was famous.
Lest anyone misread this flight to fame as a fluke, it should be made clear that Johnston delivered the goods. When this miraculous opportunity came he was prepared. He was an excellent photographer with a flair for the kind of chi chi that appealed not only to Flo Ziegfeld but to the madcap decade in which he flourished. He produced a product indigenous to the times. It was as if the [ ? ] of 1918 automatically had released the prohibitory bars erected by a defunct [ ? ], and Johnston's ornate photographs of the Ziegfeld beauties were harbingers of a new, less modest decade to come. Viewed from the vantage point of the atomic age, however, this [ ? ] seems rather funnier than felonious.
Revealed through yards of transparent and opaque drapery with which he always has worked, the Ziegfeld girls figures were made undulatingly [ ? ]. Thus draped they assumed provocative postures in pictures whose lighting schemes were skillfully calculated to amplify the girls' already ample endowments. Demand for the pictures spread like wildfire among newspapers and magazines all over the world. Small wonder that Alfred Cheney Johnston became famous within six months after Ziegfeld picked him from the throng of amateur photographers. Although official history does not say so, Johnston, not Ziegfeld, was the real glorifier of the the Ziegfeld girl, whose elaborately draped image Johnston created in metallic silver for all to see.
But Ziegfeld must be credited with being astute in giving Johnston, an unknown amateur, so important a photographic assignment. He had based his decision on a few photographs, among them several of nude girls adorned in drapes, which was the closest one could get to nudity without violating any laws. Johnston's unquestioned flair for the female figure and a certain taste in combining it with draperies in pleasing compositions caught Ziegfeld's eye. Showman that he was, Ziegfeld knew what the public wanted.
In that 1918 autumn, young Johnston, excited by his budding new career, lost no time in renting a studio on the top floor of a building at the corner of Fifty-seventh street and Sixth avenue, with famed artist Neysa McMein as a neighbor. He bought a big 11x14 Century Studio camera to supplant the smaller 5x7 view he had been using as an amateur. With a few necessary props, quantities of draperies and costume jewelry, Johnston was in business. The Ziegfeld girls filled his days and they posed not under spots and floods but sunlight diffused through the studio skylight. Johnston in 1919 was using the natural light to which so many photographers today have but recently returned.
The tide rose rapidly. Soon society women, envious of the Ziegfeld girls' physical charms, began flocking to his studio to be photographed revealingly draped or completely nude - at fabulous prices, of course. It was inevitable that Hollywood would buy this man's photographic talent, and in 1920 he was summoned to the movie capital where he photographed every silent screen star in sight. Today his file of photographs of the pre-sound era is one of the most extensive.
Johnston was something of a sensation in the Hollywood of 1920 where the wiseacres called him, certainly not without justification, Mr. Drape. His drapes went with him everywhere and he used them in the most unexpected places. When Tyrone Power came to be photographed, Johnston wrapped a velvet drape around his neck. The result was a very dramatic Hamletesque kind of portrait which, says Johnston, Annabel, Power's wife at the time, prized as the best anyone ever had made of her handsome husband.
Famous people from all over the world came to Mr. Drape for their portraits and it wasn't long before he was knee-deep in advertising assignments, being one of the pioneers in that field. His accounts include such national products as Lucky Strike, Old Gold, Woodbury's, Dobbs, Milgrim, Lux, Van Raalte stockings, French Line, Martel brandy, and so on. In photography as well as the theater Johnston made himself a celebrity. He appeared regularly at the most fashionable restaurants and night clubs and his sumptuous new studio at the Hotel Des Artistes was the scene of many a stupendous party at which celebrities mingled with the Ziegfeld beauties Johnston was glorifying in his photographs.
That era, of course, came to an abrupt close with the great depression, and as if by divine plan and as a symbol of finality, Flo Ziegfeld died in 1933 when an unhappy nation already had lost its appetite for such frothy frivolity. But Johnston, no longer dependent on the Ziegfeld harem, carried on for seven more years doing advertising and editorial illustration.
In 1940 he retired to his 14-acre hilltop at Oxford, Conn., whose bucolic tranquility is in startling contrast to the life of a glamour photographer in the New York speakeasy era.
The past, however, has by no means been obliterated. Today Alfred Cheney Johnston, charming and affable, lives among the mementos of his past triumphs. The huge barn on his property is filled with the furnishings of his plush New York studios. There are the gilded grand piano, the antique grandfather's clock, Italian renaissance marble sculptures, ornate carved wood cabinets and tables, paintings, valuable tapestries and a wealth of objets d'art. The big hayloft has been turned into a studio equipped with the very same tapestries, draperies, props and lighting equipment with which he worked through two decades in New York.
Today the glorifier of the Ziegfeld girls likes to photograph nudes outdoors in natural backgrounds and indoors with draperies and tapestries. He remains a glorifier of feminine beauty and is never happier than when he finds a new model to explore with his camera. He is as enthusiastic about photography today as he was thirty years ago. He is an active member of the Hartford County Camera Club and a frequent salon exhibitor as well as judge. He has had one-man shows of his work at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and in the Atlanta Art Museum.
Any amateur would turn green with envy to see Johnston in retirement. He has equipped the huge barn with automatic central heating, a dressing room with stall shower, a huge reception room, darkroom and workshop, and the big hayloft studio at one end of which he has erected a platform so heavily bedraped that it looks like a stage. Here, indeed, in 1951 are the trappings and appurtenances of the Ziegfeld era paradoxically housed on the property of a Puritan New England farm.
To this setting POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY sent Juliana Benze, well-known streamlined New York model typical of 1951's standard of beauty. Unlike the Ziegfeld girls' cupid bow mouth and long hair, Juliana's lips are full, her hair is short, and her eyes orientally made up. We wanted to see ........
[and we wanted to see the rest of this article...]
Alfred Cheney Johnston sets up his 1st Studio & does his first sittings_profdash
by David for group historicalziegfeld Jul 22, 2011
The images below are from the 1917 Follies shoot that marks Johnston's emergence as a professional performing arts photographer with a credit. Perhaps the most informative single chapter of the unpublished memoir of Johnston, "I Never Wore Tights," is the account of Johnston's first studio. I have transcribed a portion of this narrative, taken from Chapter 2, here to supply an insight into Cheney's early days as a Follies photographer. I own one of the two ms copies of this memoir. David S. Shields
FROM CHAPTER 2 “I NEVER WORE TIGHTS”
In 1917, Alfred Cheney Johnston had his own gaze fixed firmly upon his own future . . . . First, he must have a studio; a photographic studio where a skylight would provide enough light for taking pictures; and a roof—free to the grimy air above Manhattan Island—where he could expose his precious platinum printing paper, in contact with his glass plates, to the sun; thus impressing the images of his negatives upon the paper.
In 1917, when Cheney paid his first month’s rent for a third floor studio, 57 West 57th Street was a three-story building. The roof would have been flat, had it not been punctuated, at regular intervals, with the glass and slate-shingled A-frames of artists’ skylights.
Outside, up and down Sixth Avenue, the “El” added its persistent clatter to the surface traffic din. However, because Cheney selected a studio which face Fifty-Seventh Street, he was not only saved a great deal of the noise of the clattering “El” trains, but also the quite understandable curiosity which would undoubtedly have afflicted both trainmen and riders, had they been able to peer through his studio window.
All third-floor studios opened off a single long hallway. Beside the front stairway there was a small, casually attended elevator. It was often necessary for prospective passengers to invade the corner drugstore and persuade the pharmacist to abandon his prescriptions long enough to escort them upwards. Sometimes an impatient tenant would run the car to the third floor himself, leave it there; thus causing the pharmacist considerable additional anguish and stair-climbing. On the other hand, most of the third floor tenants were young. Two flights of stairs were not nearly so formidable a barrier as undoubtedly they would later become.
One of the conveniences of this thriving artistic warren was a back stairway which lead directly down—not up—to “The Alps,” a pleasantly unpretentious restaurant at the street level. “The Alps” was not only a [p 39] place where both tenants and models could enjoy each other, to an obligato of good food and drinks; it was not only a coffee house dedicated to the thrashing out—but never the solution of—the earth-shattering problems of love, and sex and religion and politics; but it was also a most convenient and obliging source of viands and potables which could be delivered directly to the third flour studio of anyone able to demonstrate sufficient solvency to pick up the tab. Thus this back staircase soon assumed the position of a two-way traffic artery between sustenance and art.
“Actually, it was the people on the second floor who suffered most,” Cheny records. In the first place, the “El” tracks were almost level with their windows. Thus those who lived on the Sixth Avenue side had little privacy unless their windows were closed and shades drawn. The second floor has been made into, and rented as, apartments; not artists’ apartments, but dwellings for respectable, home-loving people. People who not only work for a living, but who seemed obsessed with the quaint notion that there was a proper hour for everything—including retiring for the night.
Because the third-floor tenants neither believed in, nor practiced, such bourgeois virtues, there was usually a state of siege and civil war between the tenants of the two floors.
The third-floor hallway was wood. To quiet the nerves of the proper apartment dwellers on the second floor, the thoughtful landlord had laid a carpet along the center of this third floor hall. However, on too many occasions, when a third floor tenant was feeling flush enough to organize a party in his studio—topped off with food and drinks from ‘The Alps’—the festivities would be climaxed by what Cheney called a ‘carpet parade.’
Bursting irreverently from the studio where they had been feasting, and with all appropriate artistic dignity, the revelers would line up, single file, parade up and down the hallway, ‘one foot on the carpet, one foot on the floor,’ ‘It was Greenwich Village on Fifty-Seventh Street,’ Cheney explains.
As standard equipment, each third-floor studio apartment was equipped with a bathroom. Cheney’s first constructive move was, of course, to convent his bathroom into a darkroom. ‘There wasn’t much furniture in the place, and I couldn’t afford much more,’ he comments. ‘Fortunately there was one blank wall. I used that for my background. When I got around to it, I covered that wall with gold paper so that when I turned a mazda lamp on it, it glowed like a sunburst. Eventually I had a frame built, with black on one side and white on the other. It was on casters, so I could turn it around easily. I used the skyight as the main light for my pictures, with a single mazda light for ‘fill.’’
On his knees, because there was no other way, he dunked and re-dunked his glass plates in developer and fixing solution in the bath tub, flushed the solutions down the drain; afterwards used the tub to wash chemicals from his negatives, then his prints.
Outside, in his studio room, he worked for hours over his glass negatives at a retouching desk; while in the other studios along the hall, his fellow artists labored with pen and ink, brushes and modeling tools on Bristol board, drawing paper and clay.
The interchange of ideas between them all was free, uninhibited, sometimes verbally violent.
On the roof, above Cheney’s head, the pupils of a dancing school practiced their routines between the skylights. ‘To me, it was one of the great attractions of the place,’ Cheney explains. ‘All my platinum prints had to be made [p 41] up there on the roof, by daylight. Platinum paper is so darn slow, you have to expose it to daylight. Even an arc light isn’t strong enough to give you a good print without waiting forever. So I’d load up an armful of printing frames, lug them up onto the roof, prop them up against the skylights, sit down and enjoy t he dancing while I waited for the prints to be exposed.
“I learned a lot of ballet that first year. Not only did I make my proofs up there, but after Ziegfeld and I had selected the shots we wanted final prints of, I would drag the printing frames back onto that roof, expose the final prints there.”
In order to ‘set’ these final platinum prints, Cheney transferred his hot oxalic acid operations from mother’s kitchen in Mount Vernon to a gas plate in his new studio. He does not record what his fellow tenants thought of the hot oxalic acid fumes. Although he does admit that the ventilation on 57th Street was better than it had been in his mother’s kitchen.
When he first became a tenant on 57th Street, Cheney’s resources were sufficient ‘to pay a couple of months’ rent and buy himself a new camera.” With a determination to see an important job well done, he concluded he must have a good camera. After all, he had suddenly been commissioned to put his ideas of artistic photographs to the test. And so he journeyed downtown to Willoughby’s Camera Supply Store, a photographic house which was taken “somewhere around Wannamaker’s Department Store,” where Grover Whalen was still displaying his charm.
In 1917, camera stores were not the fascinating gimcrack supermarkets into which they have since developed. Being almost entirely frequented by professional photographers, the equipment they stocked was heavy, substantial, cumbersome. Nor was it displayed with the ingenuity of late drugstore merchandisers. Still cameras were larger, ponderous, made almost entirely of wood. So were plate holders, tripods. Because ‘wet’ plates were still much used, their cumbersome holders, with slated fronts, like roll front desks—were still stocked, as were the sensitizing tanks. Because both films and plates were colorblind, no one knew about, or bothered with filters. Exposure meters would have been a needless luxury, because most shutters boasted only one speed. The professional still exposed “by feel”: squeezed a rubber bulb for an instant, let it go. Film was strictly for amateurs; only recently had roll film first been spooled inside a protective paper backing so that a camera might be loaded with it outside a darkroom. Before that, paper ‘leaders,’ cemented to both ends of the film, had been the only means of protecting the film rolls from unwanted light.
Although the film of that day was flexible enough to be rolled, no base rigid enough to allow it to be used in large sheets had yet been produced. Consequently, for the professional, plates were standard. And many a fine negative ended up as a handful of jagged glass splinters on darkroom floors.
Cheney has never been quite sure whether, when he entered Willoughby’s that day, they ‘saw a sucker coming’; or whether his self-confident attitude was responsible for the photographic outfit he finally purchased. Certainly he bought a ‘real camera.’ It was large; it was impressive. It accommodated 11x14 inch glass plates. Eventually a 5x7 ‘reducing back’ allowed him to make negatives of this latter smaller size.
He began with glass plates and continued to be convinced that, for really fine work, glass plates were distinctly superior; also that they should be large enough to make retouching easy and allow the production of salon, or display, prints without using an enlarging camera. . . .
Professional cameras have never been sold ‘complete with lens.’ It has always been a matter of choice, discretion and pocketbook as to what lens the photographer will select. Cheney chose a 28-inch Steinheil, a lens which has remained with him as the camera, throughout the years.
“I’ve never forgotten the man who sold me this outfit,” Cheney says. “His name is Joe Dombroff. He was a slight, little fellow. As I remember it, the camera was bigger than he was. Afterwards, he became president of Willoughby’s. I don’t think I could have given him that much business, but I might have.”
“Anyhow, I got the camera, and some plate holders, and the lens, and some trays delivered by my studio, and I was in business.”
David S. Shields
Last updated Sept 15, 2013 by jane.
AC Johnston... and Lady of the Ads Oct 10, '11 by Vlad for group historicalziegfeld
ACJ as Don Diego_Unnamed Bridal Fashion Photos_jane 5 September 2013
Anyone know who these women are?
175 photos in 11 sub-albums
Alfred Cheney Johnston, Dorothy Dickson, & Ziegfeld (Unpublished Memoir)_profdash
by David for group historicalziegfeld July 9, 2011
In Gordon Bell's ms memoir of Alfred Cheney Johnston's early career, "I Never Wore Tights," the first chapter describing how Johnston came to become the Follies' photographer makes no sense. It presents a myth in which Johnston, an amateur lensman is elevated to professional status by Ziegfeld's fiat. 'As an art student, he had less than no experience as a professional photographer. His entire knowledge of formal pictures of any form consisted of his art training and the few photographs he had made in Mount Vernon and of other art students and Friends at the National Academy.' Somehow he takes some photos of dancer Dorothy Dickson, who with her partner Hyson, had come to notice in the Coconut Grove early in 1917. "Why Dorothy Dixon and her husband, Carl Hyson, had invited him, Alfred Cheney Johnston, to the Follies and the Midnight Frolic with them, Cheney had no idea. True, he had made some photographs of Dorothy. But surely his photographs couldn't be the reason he had been included in the Hyson's Ziegfeld party--unless this was Dorothy's way of saying "Thank you."" When Ziegfeld later joins the table, he asks Johnston to take special studies of this Follies performers, just like the ones he had done of Dickson. Ziegfeld's request seems an arbitrary intuition about the genius of an untried artist, and Johnston's career a happenstance based on amazing good fortune. The elevation of an unknown talent to stardom was, of course, THE favorite Ziegfeldian myth--the plot of "Sally" and the compulsive theme of F. Z.'s many reflections on the chorines who went through various versions of the Follies. If Johnston was entirely an amateur who did not exhibit his work (portraits of other art students), how did Dickson come to him for a sitting? As I have suggested before, Johnston is romanticizing his emergence as a credited artist. The Dickson images that attracted Ziegfeld's eye were shot before her engagement with the Follies and the Midnight Frolic in June.
When we look to printed sources for images of Dickson from early 1917, the set reproduced below (images taken from Jane Rasa's site) immediately attract notice. They appear under the imprimatur of Sarony Studio, and they possess several hallmark motifs of Cheney's posing preferences. It would appear that Johnston was working for Ernest Burrow at Sarony Studio as a photographer and developer before Dickson brought him to the attention of Ziegfeld. Ziegfeld would not have been making a snap judgment on the basis of a handful of prints from one sitting; Sarony's portraits of 1916 Follies members, and also F. Z.'s wife Billie Burke, also seem from Johnston. So, the impresario was not hiring a tyro, but someone working for one of New York's most reputable firms whose work had appeared in mass circulation print. Hardly the startling tale that Gordon Bell weaves . . . but certainly more plausible and more agreeable to the surviving visual evidence. David S. Shields
Alfred Cheney Johnston's Other Studio: Don Diego
by David for group historicalziegfeld May 7, 2011
One of the revelations of the recent sale of Alfred Cheney Johnston papers appears in his 1927 letter of contract with Florenz Ziegfeld in which ACJ reveals that he had established a second studio with a separate brand name, Don Diego. (You may recall my earlier posting on Don Diego as a disciple of ACJ whose style was so indistinguishable from that of ACJ that it was difficult to speak of a personal approach to photography--small wonder!) The 1927 Ziegfeld contract suggests why Johnston established a subsidiary brand. It is an agreement that "Alfred Cheney Johnston" work exclusively with Ziegfeld and with no other producer. Since "Alfred Cheney Johnston" had incorporated himself, if he were to do additional work, it had to be under another name. Don Diego was the moniker he chose. The sort of work printed under the Don Diego brand from 1927 through 1929 is suggested in the illustrations below--fashion shoots using name actresses for national magazines--costume shots of performers in non-Ziegfeld shows. There is one interesting inference one can make from provisions in the 1927 contractual letter: that Alfred Cheney Johnston personally developed and printed prints appearing under his name; Don Diego employed other developers and printers. Ziegfeld's exclusive agreement with Johnston lasted a year, for the producer contracted with DeBarron Studios in 1928. Yet Johnston kept the Don Diego brand viable until the Stock Market Crash in 1929. The Don Diego fashion shots presented below are noteworthy for several things--first they do not, with one exception, employ Johnston's signature painted negative background; second, they often employ stage props, rather than elements from ACJ's studio; third, three-quarters length portraits appear intermingled with full figure images in a much higher percentage than ACJ's theatrical work; four, the penchant for lighter backgrounds shows off detailing of the clothing. In numbers of Johnston's pronouncements about photographic artistry and female beauty, he commented how he did not favor depicting women in modern dress. Yet fashion photography was where a great deal of money was to be made. So ACJ segregated this work from that appearing under his own name. Another matter of interest concerns the disappearance of Johnston from the pages of Theatre magazine in the 1920s. It would now appear that he did not disappear at all, but simply employed another name, while "Alfred Cheney Johnston" abided by whatever exclusive agreement he had signed with a Broadway Producer. Another matter to note is that Ziegfeld resorted to such exclusive arrangements only intermittently during his career--in 1919 with Frank E. Geisler, in 1922 with Edward Thayer Monroe, in 1927 with Johnston, and 1928-29 with DeBarron. His more usual method was to secure numbers of photographers treating various aspects of publicity for his shows. David S. Shields
By profdash 18 July 2013.