Friday, June 22, 2012


I have added a page to the Photo Ephemera section of my vintage cameras web site about Ansco's Portrait Magazine, published from 1909 to 1921.  Ansco's publication resembles those of Kodak and Sears from the same era, but the Binghamton, New York company slanted it's editorial efforts much more toward a commercial professional audience.

Each issue of Portrait featured a cover shot of a noted portrait photographer and an article inside with a bit of biographical information and a sample of the photographer's work.

 Gertrude Käsebier  was featured in the July 1912 issue.  The sample of her work in the publication is not a memorable example of her capabilities.  Alfred Stieglitz included six of her best in the first issue of Camera Work in 1903, but by 1912 he had decided that her efforts to make a living from her work violated his standards of artistic purity.  That, however, did not stop Stieglitz from participating as a featured speaker at the Ansco-sponsored photo convention being promoted in the July  Portrait issue.  In that context the magazine's editors noted:
One of the many features of the Convention will be a talk by Alfred Stieglitz, who, although not a professional photographer is recognized as a leader of pictorial photography.
Stieglitz was probably ok with being excluded from the "professional" category, but my guess is that the wording of the announcement still rankled a bit. 


robert said...

A professional is anyone who makes a living doing what they enjoy. While amateurs just do it for the enjoyment. Either way some great photos can be made. If I had to earn an income from a hobby I enjoy, I would soon hate it, but that's just me.

Mike said...

I feel pretty much the same about my own photographic efforts. At the same time, I think one has to recognize that there are many other dimensions and perspectives on the issue of pro vs amateur.

I think we have to give credit to the professionals for being able to reliably get the picture when called on to do so, regardless of what they had for breakfast. The question, of course, is whether some individual style and integrity can be maintained in the process.

In the case of Stieglitz vs Käsebier I think that the former's position is weakened by the fact that Stieglitz came from an indulgent, wealthy family and he never really had to make a living at anything including photography.

People's attitudes change over time about what constitutes legitimate professionalism as well. Edward Weston was a cover boy for the Ansco publication early in his career. Later, he evidently regretted practicing the hack aesthetic of the studio portraitists and he tried to suppress republication of his early work including the portrait used in the Ansco publication. He was ok with taking money for his work in the form of Guggenheim Fellowships. Those let him focus on his own skills and values, but of course there are always some strings attached.

Julio F said...

Thanks for sharing this 100-year-old cover and for the interesting story of the Stieglitz-Käsebier-Ansco debate.

The debate on professional / commercial vs pure art probably had already started when Homo Sapiens was doing cave paintings.