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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Ronald Traeger

Born: Ronald Samuel Traeger 
Dates:  1937 - 1968
Active:  US
American commercial photographer, painter and graphic designer who also took a range of experimental photographs.
The Life and Times of Ronald Samuel Traeger (1936-1968)
Written by Edward James Gilbert, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada (12 March 2015)
Ronald Samuel Traeger was an American commercial photographer, painter and graphic designer who also took a range of experimental photographs. He was from an American Jewish family and had been born 1936 in Washington D.C., USA. His father was Samuel Hirsch Traeger (1905-1990) who had been born February 21,1905 at Chicago,Illinois, one of five children born to Hyman Traeger (1876-1947) and Bertha Cohn (1875-1949). Samuel was living in Chicago in 1910. On September 14, 1933 Samuel married Ruth Falkenstein. Ruth had been born January 29,1907 in New York City, NY, and was one of six children born to Hugo Falkenstein (1874-1938) and Rose Drucker. Samuel died December 13,1990 in Dade County, Miami, Florida.
Ronald was one of three children born to his parents, the others being a sister and a brother. The 1940 US census, taken at Falls Church, Providence Rhode Island noted the presence of Samuel Traeger with his wife Ruth and their son Ronald Samuel Traeger. The whereabouts or details about his siblings were not established.
Ronald had joined the U.S. Navy as a photographer and cinematographer before ending up on his discharge in England. While with the Navy he benefited from the GI Bill which gave servicemen opportunities to study, and he travelled widely within Europe from 1960 to 1962.
Before 1962 he was in Los Angeles where he received training at the Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. Ronald, along with four friends founded the Globecombers, a group whose reason for being was to get out of Los Angeles as soon as possible. The school, according to Ronald, lacked inspiration, and like most art schools was reliant on rules, traditions, and submissions to certain conventions. After a year at the school Ronald and the Globecombers set sail for Europe. He later arrived in London by way of initially visiting Rome and then Paris.
In 1962 Ronald was in Rome. The photographs he took there were made between February and June 1962. Of this work, art critics state “His work exudes a love of spontaneous movement that went far beyond the needs of a particular effect. It communicates playfulness, an ecstacy in the very experience of capturing people moving through space. What Ronald and his friends were after was a sense of immediacy, freedom and vitality, something absent from the work of older generations”.
When Ronald later arrived in Paris in 1963, he was hired by French Elle. As a result of photographs Ronald had produced in Rome, Vogue became interested in his work. After a meeting with John Parsons, the Art Director at British Vogue he began working with them and soon had a regular commission from Vogue. Vogue published his pictures in 1963 and was an instant hit, with Vogue advising its readers ‘to watch out for more of his work soon…’. He photographed ‘Swinging London’ for the magazine, and, as something of an outsider, being American, he treated the participants as an exotic species. Twiggy was a favourite model and perhaps Traeger's best-known set of images is of her racing around Hyde Park on a mini-motorbike. One of his images of Twiggy made the front cover of Vogue in 1964. Basing himself in London in 1964, he travelled to Paris regularly and produced many portraits of key media figures of the mid-’60s including Stanley Kubrick, Vladimir Nabokov and Mary Quant. His work brought him into contact with the most sought-after models of the period including Twiggy, Grace Coddington and Nicole de Lamage, and he worked extensively with Twiggy in the early stages of her career.
In the second quarter of 1965 Ronald married Tessa Grimshaw at Chelsea, Middlesex. In an 1996 interview with Tessa Traeger, she stated that she had attended Alexy Brodovich’s classes while in New York in 1960 and had considered the idea of working in New York as a freelance photographer, but due to her young age she decided against it and returned to England on the Queen Elizabeth and renewed her freelance life in Marshall Street, when she was telephoned by a young American photographer (Ronald S. Traeger) that she had met briefly four years earlier, and that later she married him. Tessa Grimshaw had been born in the third quarter of 1938 at Guildord, Surrey, and was one of three children born to Thomas Cecil Grimshaw (1907-1942)and Hanna Joan Grimshaw, nee Dearsley, born in 1907. Tessa became pregnant but had a difficult time, and after spending two months on her back she lost the baby. The couple never had any other children.
Ronald’s promising career was cut short when he was diagnosed with Hotchkin’s disease and was given no more than six months to live. He died in 1968 in Chelsea, Middlesex. His wife Tessa was a well-known London photographer, and after her husband’s death became active in the photography of Food. While with her husband she travelled extensively including Paris. Both she and her husband worked in London out of the Rossetti Studios, a Grade II listed building by English Heritage, that was built in 1894. She has exhibited her work extensively and now at the age of 77 is still active and going strong.
Of the death of Ronald Traeger, Cecil Beaton noted later, ‘he was well on the way to becoming one of the most brilliant photographers of today’. A biography of Ronald was written by Martin Harrison entitled Ronald Traeger: New Angles and published in 1999. Ronald's wife Tessa and Vogue both contributed to the book. The book tells in part of the period when Tessa and Ronald worked in Europe together. Also from this book is the following “ Although assigments occasionally came their way, they mostly photographed speculatively, in the hope their work would be syndicated. The photographs that Ronald Traeger made of the changing influence of church and state in Rome evolved into an important body of work, his first mature assignment.The series was completed in four months of intense activity…”
Examples of his work can be found at The National Portrait Gallery, The Trunk Archives, and at the Victoria & Albert Museum. As is common with the work of fashion photographers, many of his greatest negatives were lost or discarded by his clients. Reproductions of his work are still being printed by his wife Tessa.

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Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual 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.264 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
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