|Dates: ||1864, 23 July - 1933, 2 November|
|Born: ||US, MA, Norwood|
|Died: ||US, MA, Norwood|
A millionaire book publisher, aesthete and friend of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, Day organised an exhibition The New School of American Photography that showed at the Royal Photographic Society (London) in 1900, caused complete uproar, and revolutionized British photography. A continuing argument with Stieglitz pushed him out of the mainstream of American photography but he continued to work closely with Clarence H. White, eventually retiring to his bed and communicating with the world through correspondence only.
[Courtesy of Pam Roberts]
His date of birth is frequently given as 8 July but it was 23 July (Peterson, 2012).
Approved biography for F. Holland Day
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)
Day was a Boston eccentric and aesthete who produced highly refined pictorial photographs around the turn of the twentieth century. Family wealth allowed him the luxury of frequent trips to Europe and the unhampered pursuit of photography and other interests.
Frederick Holland Day was born on July 23 (not July 8, as frequently cited), 1864, in South Dedham, Massachusetts. Even though he didn’t need to work, he took a job at A. S. Barnes, a Boston bookseller, in 1885, which he kept for five years. He became obsessed with the then little-known work of the English poet John Keats, and formed a major collection of related material that was given to the writer’s house museum upon Day’s death. Day’s other significant non-photographic pursuit was fine book publishing. Directly inspired by William Morris and his Kelmscott Press, Day cofounded the firm of Copeland and Day in 1893. During its six-year life, the Boston press published over one hundred titles, many of them featuring advanced designs (in the Arts and Crafts style) and illustrations by controversial artists like Aubrey Beardsley. Also during this time, Day befriended the young mystic poet Kahlil Gibran.
Day was deeply interested in photography by 1889, when he joined the Boston Camera Club. His work was included in the London salon of 1895, the year he was elected to membership in the prestigious Linked Ring Brotherhood, as only the third American. In 1898, he presented a one-person exhibition at the Camera Club of New York, which was also hung at the Boston Camera Club. He served on the jury of the Philadelphia Photographic Salon in 1899, and the next year had a solo show at the salon’s sponsoring club, the Photographic Society of Philadelphia.
Day often created allegorical and mythological images of nude male figures, influenced by the European Decadent movement. His most startling piece was The Last Words, a seven-part work on the Crucifixion, in which the photographer himself posed as Christ, after losing weight and growing his hair long. Created in 1898, it was seen in that year’s salon in Philadelphia. In addition to his unique subject matter, Day’s subtle platinum prints were known for their unified and delicate methods of mounting and framing. Rivaled only by the English pictorialist Frederick H. Evans, Day presented his photographs in architectural, gilded frames and/or multiple layers of colored paper.
Alfred Stieglitz appreciated Day’s work, but the two had a difficult relationship. Stieglitz featured images by Day as photogravures in the October 1897 and July 1898 issues of Camera Notes. He also included his work in two Photo-Secession exhibitions without Day’s approval; the first being the group’s inaugural show in 1902 at the National Arts Club (New York) and the International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography at the Albright Art Gallery (Buffalo) in 1910. More than once, Stieglitz asked Day to send him work for inclusion in Camera Work, but never received any. Day worked to make Boston the home of American pictorial photography but Stieglitz successfully established that role for New York. Their greatest rivalry occurred in 1900, when Day organized the New School of American Photography, an exhibition that was presented at the Royal Photographic Society in London and in 1901 at the Photo-Club de Paris. Comprised of work by forty-one photographers, it, noticeably, excluded Stieglitz and featured a whopping one hundred by Day. Needless to say, these two towering figures never reconciled.
Day was most active in the years directly before and after the turn of the century. He wrote articles for Camera Notes in 1897, 1898, and 1901, and for the American Annual of Photography in 1898 and 1899. At this time, the annual ran reproductions of his photographs, as did England’s Photograms of the Year. Group exhibitions that included his work occurred in Boston, Chicago, Glasgow, London, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
Day was friendly with many American pictorialists, in particular Edward Steichen, who he stayed with in Paris when the New School show was there, and Gertrude Käsebier, who he frequently saw while summering in Maine, from about 1898 to 1917. Day spent nearly two years in London, around the time of the New School show, but in 1901 returned to Boston to establish a personal working studio. There, he continued to make pictures and occasionally hang shows of other photographer’s work, such as in 1902, when he presented Portraits of a Few Leaders in the Newer Photographic Methods. Unfortunately, in November 1904, a fired completely destroyed the studio, dampening his continued enthusiasm for photography. Day, nonetheless, did not give up exhibiting his pictures. In February 1914, he had a solo show in the private Buffalo studio of photographer Spencer Kellogg, Jr. His last known exhibition was in April 1922 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 1917, Day voluntarily took to his bed at his family home in Norwood, Massachusetts, surrounding himself with books, papers, and other items to stay mentally active. He died there of prostate cancer sixteen years later, on November 2, 1933.
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012)
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission.
Date last updated: 1 June 2013.
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|Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography.|| ||Go to website|
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The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.
|• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] |
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.93 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.]
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.134-135
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press) [Includes a short biography on F. Holland Day.]
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.120-121 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.]
If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.