Home / Photographers / Hesser - Edwin Bower / Disciples of Alfred Cheney Johnston: Edwin Bower Hesser_david [15]

© David S. Shields

Disciples of Alfred Cheney Johnston: Edwin Bower Hesser  Jul 31, '09 4:10 PM
by David for group historicalziegfeld #136

Of the performing arts photographers who professed to be followers of Alfred Cheney Johnston no one achieved more than E. B. Hesser. Yet Hesser's reputation as a camera artist suffers from the promiscuity of his activities--he was at various times in his career a theater manager, opera producer, painter, military officer, motion picture script writer, motion picture producer, film stock manufacturer, actor, Art magazine editor, and motion picture publicity photographer.

Even in the one area of work that never failed him--glamour photography--his restlessness manifested itself in endless tinkering with developing formulae, paper stocks, and lenses. Consequently, vintage Hesser prints come in a bewildering range of conditions--from strangely green-yellow toned 11x14s to silvered black background busts. Certain of his developing compounds have caused the prints to burn into the paper, or fade to a tan ghost. Only one out of three vintage Hesser prints can be viewed as stable and healthy. Fortunately, he was a prolific artist, producing in New York and Los Angeles, an ample corpus of celebrity images, starlet drape shots, and pastoral nudes in the Alta Studio mode.

Though he proclaimed ACJ as his master and instructor, Hesser's way with celebrities and models was markedly different than Johnston's. Hesser shot closer in, impinging on the subject's space. The bare shoulder was the erotic fixture of his celebrity beauty shots, not the neck or the back. He loved back-lighting hair with artificial spots, while ACJ used side-lighting. Hesser's posing was dynamic. Arms were crooked, or stretched. Eyes made contact with the viewer, except for profile shots. He liked smiles, modest or pronounced. Backgrounds didn't matter at all. The sitter was everything. Johnston preferred to envelope his subjects in an ornamental frame, painted onto the negative, or background tapestry, or array them with symbolic objects. No props for Hesser, and the Pickford swing below was her idea, not his.

Most of Hesser's work was done in the ten year period from 1920 to 1930. After his struggle through the 1930s to make his Hessercolor process a viable commercial rival to Kodachrome, he began shooting many magazine covers in the late 1930s, reviving his camera career. David S. Shields

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  • mdffyx - 1Reply
    None of these Hesser attributions are reliable.
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