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© David S. Shields

Photographer: Elmer Chickering  Nov 7, '10 2:04 PM
by David for group historicalziegfeld #480

Elmer E. Chickering. Born Grandon VT. Feb 16, 1857, died Boston, MA, May 15 1915. Learned photography as an adolescent in Vermont, went into business for himself in 1870, and relocated to Boston in 1884, establishing a studio at 21 West Street. His first floor gallery was the best exhibition space in the city outside a museum; the third floor studio was equipped with state of the art cameras and lenses, including one of the earliest telephoto.

He immediately distinguished himself from the other professional studios in town by specializing in celebrity portraiture. Chickering’s gentlemanly demeanor won him a strong institutional clientele from baseball teams to the G.A.R. Like Napoleon Sarony, he was adept at several graphic modes, being a capable painter in oils, and an accomplished draughtsmen with crayons, pastels, and India Ink. In his ‘operating room,’ R. M. Wilson posed the sitters. T. E. Eustis did flashlight photography of theatre scenes and interior spaces. Chickering processed the prints. With the aid of his brother Walter, he expanded his business to include three studios within the city. He also outfitted a portable studio in a wagon, “enabling the artist to produce views of landscape and other scenery in distant localities in perfection otherwise unattainable.”

Chickering’s most significant contribution to theatrical photography was his legal contestation of the claims of Harper & Brothers, publishers, to possess copyright of the photographer’s images of the A. M. Palmer company’s production of “Trilby” because the characters were costumed in imitation of DuMaurier’s drawings illustrating the novel.

A fire in January, 1903 destroyed the studio’s backstock of negatives, valued by insurance adjustors at $27,000. A regular exhibitionist at international salons, he specialized in large-sized images—20x24 inches. Respected within the profession and regarded a civic-minded public man, he died a Boston celebrity.

After his death, the studio continued operation under the Chickering name until 1919 when George H. Hasting’s rechristened the premises ‘The Hastings Studio.’ Chickering’s approach to portraiture favored getting a characteristic likeness over visual artistry or adventurous posing. Consequently, his work looks pedestrian when contrasted with that of his contemporaries, Benjamin J. Falk, William M. Morrison, Jacob Schloss, and Theodore Marceau. The rise of the nationally circulated illustrated magazines, however, caused him to reassess his aesthetics in late 1900, when he determined to by more fashionable in posing in order to compete with the other major celebrity photographers for image placements.

The selection below begins with his post-1900 work and ends with material characteristic of his earlier approach. © David S. Shields

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