Sunday, January 5, 2014


F. Holland Day (1864-1933) was a contemporary of Frances Benjamin Johnston. For a time  around the turn of the 20th century  both young photographers worked in the fashionable style called Imagism (a sort of impressionism-for-photography, derived from current expressive trends in painting and poetry). Johnston abandoned Imagist mannerisms before World War I, moving instead toward greater clarity, symmetry, and formality. Day, on the other hand, remained always faithful to this blurry moody aesthetic. He particularly enjoyed the staging of self-portraits in costume. Above, two exercises in self-fashioning first with sailor-suit and spectacles; then in "Renaissance" outfit (even including custom-made, historical-looking pointy-toed shoes). Below, three platinum prints from a series representing the Crucifixion, the photographer himself impersonating Jesus Christ.    

In the cyanotype above, F. Holland Day wore Biblical-style draperies in a Biblical-looking landscape. This picture, taken in 1911, represented then-current Orientalist preconceptions of an imaginary Middle East, but was in fact taken during a New England summer that involved prosaic activities with family and friends like checker games and amateur haircuts.

The idiosyncracies brought by F. Holland Day to his personal version of Imagism become most evident in the group of studies below, all dating from 1907. Classical props were crucial  winged hat, lyre, laurel wreath, staff  yet the resulting compositions did not seriously invoke the Classical past any more than Day's portrayals of Jesus Christ invoked the New Testament. These sepia-toned fantasies owe less to literary influence than to a generalized nostalgia for the Victorian fad (at its height during Day's own childhood) of "fancy dress" and tableaux vivants.