The American Annual of Photography

* It took me around six hours to write this little snippet of a paper. Sometimes I forget just how hard it is to be concise.

Even with increasing interest in vernacular photographic practice, practitioner discourse remains strangely excluded. From the moment of its invention, photographers have relied on a variety of news and information sources to locate trends in photographic practice. The American Annual of Photography was one of the most consistent photographic publications in the first half of the twentieth century. Attempting to please a long established base of practicing photographers, it cannot be seen as a harbinger of the avant garde, but instead the pulse of a “silent majority.” As such, it becomes an ideal reflection of the norms and conventions of photographers. Its heritage is not one of innovation, but of imitation and incorporation.

The genesis of the American Annual can be traced to an early competition between manufacturer E.& H.T. Anthony (founded 1841) and Scovill Manufacturing Company (founded 1850). Both early distributors of photographic supplies were anxious to capitalize on the rapid Western expansion. Anthony’s first publishing venture was a small sheet, the 1855 Bulletin of Photographic Invention and Improvement. The publication was annual until 1870, when it became a monthly publishing “serviceable and interesting information to all those engaged in photography, professional or otherwise” (Marder 199). It was distributed free, with a suggested donation of 25 cents to defray publishing costs. Anthony also became the sole U.S. agent for The British Journal’s Annual of Photography in 1870. The success of Anthony’s publishing and distribution efforts eventually moved Scovill (now Scovill & Adams) to introduce The American Annual of Photography in 1887, an instant popular success which sold out two printings. Anthony retaliated by introducing The International Annual of Photography in 1887. The emphasis of all these early annuals was the transmission of technical and process data. Scovill’s 1887 American Annual featured 80 articles, mostly on technical topics.

Scoville and Anthony merged in 1901, and a series of acquisitions and spin-offs ensued in the early 20th century creating the American Photographic Publishing Company. American Photography, a monthly magazine, boasted in 1916 that it incorporated Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin, The Photographic Times, American Amateur Photographer, The Photo-Beacon, Camera Notes, Camera and Darkroom, Photographic Topics, and Popular Photography.

Clara Sipprell

American Annual of Photography 1927

Sipprell, Clara Estelle (1885-1975)

A leading photographer of her day, Clara Sipprell was a short, stout woman who thought of herself as tall and thin. She smoked cigarettes, cigars, and pipes; liked bourbon and driving fast convertibles; and never cut her hair but often tucked it under a fedora, safari helmet, or cloche hat. She preferred capes because of their drama and freedom of movement, jewelry with large stones in heavy settings, and embroidered Slavic clothing.

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Her Majesty

American Annual of Photography 1927

Jessie Tarbox Beals turned 50 in 1920, and the decade began with career accolades worthy of a woman who had worked hard at her craft for the previous twenty years. Several of her photos were exhibited in 1921 and 1922 in shows in Toronto and Buffalo. Beals began to focus some of her energy on poetry, for which she had found a gift when making the Greenwich Village postcards. After a few of her poems were published, she joined the League of American Pen Women, an organization promoting women writers. In 1921, enthusiastic about belonging to such a prestigious organization, Beals offered to take the other members’ portraits at no charge. This kind offer did not aid her declining financial situation, but added images to her growing print library. She was constantly re-printing photographs for new attempts at publication, sometimes mounting smaller prints onto cardstock to attract buyers. Women photographers were becoming more common each year, making Beals a less unique or automatic choice for commissions. Beals herself may have contributed to the competition with her talks at clubs and on the radio, which often dispensed advice to aspiring women photographers. While a popular figure on the lecture circuit, Beals found herself growing older and not able to “hustle” for pictures as she had done in her youth.

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