New York: Karl Struss
by Vlad for group historicalziegfeld Mar 18, 2012
Born: Karl Fischer Struss in New York City, 30 November 1886.
Education: Attended night classes in photography with Clarence White, Columbia University, New York, 1908–12.
Family: Married Ethel Wall, 1921.
Career: 1903–14—worked in his father's bonnet-wire factory; 1914–17—studio photographer, New York; 1916—cofounder, Pictorial Photographers of America; 1917–19—served in World War I: did experiments on infrared photography; 1919–22—still photographer, then cameraman, for Cecil B. DeMille at Famous Players-Lasky, Hollywood, then worked for B.P. Schulberg, 1922–24, other companies, D.W. Griffith, 1927–30, and for Paramount after 1931; TV work includes the series Broken Arrow, 1950, and My Friend Flicka, 1957; exhibited his still photographs throughout his career.
Award: Academy Award for Sunrise, 1928–29.
Died: 16 December 1981.
“Born in New York in 1886, Struss studied photography with Clarence H. White and was admitted to Alfred Stieglitz's "291" photo-pictorialist group in 1909. By 1914, Struss was an accomplished pictorial photographer with his own studio who was selling work to Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper's Bazaar magazines. "It wasn't fashion photography," said Struss, "it was pictorial photography."
Migrating as a still photographer to Hollywood in 1919, Struss signed on with Cecil B. DeMille as a second unit cameraman. Soon, he was filming Ben Hur (1925) with the early two-color Technicolor process and working with stars like Mary Pickford on Sparrows (1926) and Fredric March on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932). Struss produced masterful pictorialist photography with dissolves, soft lighting effects and double exposures on Sunrise (1927) and was at the top of his craft when Mary Pickford insisted he photograph her first sound film, Coquette, in 1928.
Invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers and bear the distinguished letters "ASC" after his name in motion picture credits, Struss was equally at home with black-and-white or color cinematography. "Cinematography in present-day dramatic films is not an end, but a means to an end, whereas the still picture is often, if not always, both the means and the end itself," wrote Struss in a 1934 issue of American Cinematographer with an article titled "Photographic Modernism and the Cinematographer." From 1920 to 1959, Struss was the cinematographer on over 135 feature films. Notable collaborations for Struss included work with D.W. Griffith on Abraham Lincoln (1930) and Charlie Chaplin on The Great Dictator (1940) and Limelight (1952).
"I never got bored," said Karl Struss. "Never wanted to photograph something differently after I'd done it." Struss passed away on December 16, 1981.”
by Ray Zone
The Female Figure.
“Within The Female Figure, Mr. Struss presented twenty-four nude studies; the majority of which were black and white, but a few which were produced using the experimental Hess-Ives color process: an early attempt to make color separations through the use of colored filters. The Hess-Ives process allowed for paper printing (unlike working on autochrome plates, which were glass). On exhibit at the gallery are a group of prints from this original portfolio including one such example employing the Hess-Ives process. In these photographs, Karl Struss abandoned the properties of routine studio portraiture and employed a 4x5-inch Century camera in hope of creating a sense of immediacy and movement. In addition the photographer introduced the portfolio with a textual justification of artistic nude photography, reprinting two articles and a poem from Platinum Print's 1914 issue on nudes.
As Mr. Struss expressed, "Newness of vision is very rare and one looks to new workers not only for inspiration but for new methods of expression." The Female Figure liberated the female body from constraining clothing and conventional movement, suggesting a return to nature. As a result of his technique, many of the exposures were left slightly blurred. All photographs depicted a figure against a wall or fabric backdrop, sometimes draped in transparent gauze, sometimes holding prop, such as a fan, a cup, or panpipes.
Although Mr. Struss' inspiration for The Female Figure is not clear, it is suspected that he was clearly influenced by the modern dance movement, which, proved to be enormously popular with pictorial photographers at the time. In 1916, Mr. Struss worked for the Metropolitan Opera Company and the Ballet Russe, photographing various performers. The artist was fascinated by the photographic technology, leading him to manufacture soft-focus pictorial lenses; master alternative printing processes (gum and platinum printing), and create his own method of multiple platinum printing to perfect the pictorial aesthetic. This same technological impulse would lead him to apply the pictorial aesthetic to motion photography--to master the complexities of making color motion pictures, and eventually pioneer in 3-D motion photography.
The following year the artist would write: "I have always been interested in the technical as well as the pictorial side of photography (the two are actually inseparable)." While The Female Figure contributed to setting the standard for nude photography, it came under legal scrutiny during that period. In fact, Mr. Struss' publisher was threatened with a lawsuit for distributing pornography. The artist, in order to defend his work, went as far as to pose three artists nude to further substantiate the portfolio's claim to art. His defensive stance was ultimately justified when the court granted him permission to sell his work.”
“Karl Struss has been accurately described as "by temperament a pictorialist, by instinct an illusionist, and by accomplishment one of the great cameramen in the floridly creative quarter-century of filmmaking that followed The Birth of a Nation," and is probably best-known as the winner (along with Charles Rosher) of the first Academy Award for cinematography, for his work on Murnau's Sunrise. However, his undoubted triumphs as a cinematographer in Hollywood's golden age have somewhat eclipsed his earlier achievements as a still photographer, and it was not until a few years before his death, thanks to a pioneering exhibition at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, that his photographs received any kind of critical recognition at all.
Fleeing his father's manufacturing business, Struss enrolled in art photography classes at Columbia University in 1909. These were under the direction of the renowned photographer Clarence H. White, making him one of the youngest members of Alfred Stieglitz's Photo-Secession and a contributor to the seminal journal Camera Work. In 1914 he set up his own studio and began doing pictorial photography—mostly illustrations for stories—for Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harpers Bazaar, much of it drawn from material gathered on a long photographic vacation in Europe in 1909. He also photographed New York, and did portraits of the stars of the Metropolitan Opera Company for publicity purposes. According to the New York Times photography critic Gene Thornton, "Struss was one of the great photographers of New York. Some of his Whistleresque impressions of the city at twilight rank with anything in that mode by Stieglitz and Steichen."
It was no accident, then, that Struss started off in Hollywood as a still photographer—with Cecil B. DeMille on St. Patrick's Day, 1919. After a month or so he became a third cameraman, and was shortly thereafter put under contract. He still did the occasional portraits (of DeMille, Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels, and Sunrise star George O'Brien, for example), and there exist some fascinating studies done on the set of Sunrise, but his main career from then on was as a cinematographer, working with directors such as Griffith, Mamoulian, Welles, Chaplin, and stars of the calibre of Mary Pickford, Mae West, Charles Laughton, Fredric March, Cary Grant, and Bing Crosby. Amongst his best known films are Ben-Hur (of which he reckons to have shot around 60 percent of the finished picture, although Rene' Guissart received the main credit for the cinematography), Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Sign of the Cross, Island of Lost Souls, Belle of the Nineties, The Great Dictator and Limelight.
Struss left the operation of the camera to his operator, concentrating himself on lighting, camera angles, sets and other production work. When once asked whether he considered directors a hindrance or a help, he replied "they were usually a help. Every picture was something different; I tried not to use the same formula. It depended on the story. The way I look at it is this: the director is the captain of the ship; I'm the first lieutenant, and the rest of the crew worked directly under me. The director shouldn't care a whoop about anything else; he's got his own problems. I'm his interpreter and I have to give him what I think is good for that story." Of Griffith he remarked that "the photography was independent of the direction. He never bothered you about the lighting. He was mainly concerned with the actors," while on Sunrise "Murnau left the whole visual side of the picture to us; he concentrated entirely on the actors. Of course, he'd see what size the image was, and he was interested in the permanently moving camera . . . he was the first director I ever worked with who really knew what was going on when he started to move the camera. He not only knew when to move but how long to move." Is there, then, such a thing as a Struss "look?" Some clue may be found in the technical innovations which he developed, such as a soft-focus lens which nevertheless provided the foundation of an essentially sharp image, the Lupe reflector which became extremely popular in face lighting, the graduated red-green filter which, used in conjunction with certain makeup facilitated the smooth transformation scenes in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the healing of the lepers in Ben-Hur, and the graduated gauze filters which facilitated the characteristic changing lighting effects in Sunrise. Struss' trademarks, then, at the height of his career, are a myriad of grey tonalities avoiding grittiness or harsh contrasts, a gauzed, romantic approach to the image (witness especially The Sign of the Cross, which was filmed entirely through bright red gauze "to give a feeling of a world remembered"), and, in general, all those qualities one associates with classical photography and the Hollywood studio system at their respective peaks. It is significant, for example, that what he most admired about the director Louis Gasnier was his "European sense of composition—lovely tableaux," that in the opening scene of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde he used an oval gauze with soft edges "to make every shot of every student look like a portrait," and that of his work on Sunrise he remarked that "today it's all mechanised; then we were artists."”
by Julian Petley