Day was the son of a Boston merchant, and was a man of independent means for all his life.
Day's life and works had long been controversial, since his photographic subjects were often nude male youths. Pam Roberts, in F. Holland Day (Waanders Pub, 2001; catalog of a Day exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum) writes: "Day never married and his sexual orientation, whilst it is widely assumed that he was homosexual, because of his interests, his photographic subject matter, his general flamboyant demeanor, was, like much else about him, a very private matter."
Day spent much time among poor immigrant children in Boston, tutoring them in reading and mentoring them. One in particular, the 13-year-old Lebanese immigrant Kahlil Gibran, went on to fame as the author of The Prophet.
Day co-founded and self-financed the publishing firm of Copeland and Day, which from 1893 through 1899 published about a hundred titles. The firm was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and William Morris's Kelmscott Press. The firm was the American publisher of Oscar Wilde's Salomé, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley; The Yellow Book periodical, also illustrated by Beardsley; and The Black Riders and Other Lines by Stephen Crane.
He is known to have traveled. Beaumont Newhall states that he visited Algiers, possibly as a result of reading Wilde and Gide. There is a photo "Portrait of F. Holland Day in Arab Costume, 1901" by Frederick H. Evans.
Kahlil Gibran in Middle Eastern costume with leopard skin and staff, 1898
Ebony and Ivory, 1899
Saint Sebastian, 1907
Youth sitting on a stone (Nicola Giancola), 1907
The Marble Faun
He was a friend of Louise Imogen Guiney and Ralph Adams Cram. He was a major patron of Aubrey Beardsley.
He was also a lifelong bibliophile and collector. Most notable among his collections was his world-class collection on the poet John Keats.
At the turn of the century, his influence and reputation as a photographer rivaled that of Alfred Stieglitz, who later eclipsed him. The high point of Day's photographic career was probably his organization of an exhibition of photographs at the Royal Photographic Society in 1900. New School of American Photography presented 375 photographs by 42 photographers, 103 of them by Day, and evoked both high praise and vitriolic scorn from critics. The popularist "Photographic News" saw it as the result... "of a diseased imagination, of which much has been fostered by the ravings of a few lunatics... unacademic ...and eccentric".
Day belonged to the pictorialist movement which regarded photography as a fine art and which often included symbolist imagery. The Photo-Secessionists invited him to join, but he declined the offer. As was common at the time, his photographs allude to classical antiquity in manner, composition and often in theme. From 1896 through 1898 Day experimented with Christian themes, using himself as a model for Jesus. Neighbors in Norwood, Massachusetts assisted him in an outdoor photographic staged photography re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus. This culminated in his series of self-photographs, The Seven Last Words, depicting the seven last words of Christ.
He often made only a single print from a negative. He used only the platinum process, being unsatisfied with any other, and lost interest in photography when platinum became unobtainable following the Russian Revolution.
Day became all but forgotten for a number of reasons. He was eclipsed by his rival, Stieglitz. The pictorial and symbolist photographic style went out of fashion in the face of the radical shift towards early modernism in the art world. Two thousand of his prints and negatives were lost in a 1904 fire. The few hundred that survived were sent to the Royal Photographic Society in the 1930s.
Since the 1990s Day's works have been included in major exhibitions by museum curators, notably in the solo Day retrospective at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2000/2001 and similar shows at the Royal Photographic Society in England and the Fuller Museum of Art. Art historians are once again taking an interest in Day, and there are now significant academic texts on Day's homoerotic portraiture, and its similarities to the work of Walter Pater and Thomas Eakins.
Day's house at 93 Day Street, Norwood, Massachusetts is now a museum (The F. Holland Day House & Norwood History Museum), and the headquarters of the Norwood Historical Society.
Through an Uncommon Lens: The Life and Photography of F. Holland Day by Patricia J. Fanning
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Univ. of Massachusetts Press (September 30, 2008)
Amazon: Through an Uncommon Lens: The Life and Photography of F. Holland Day
Based in the Boston area, F. Holland Day (1864 1933) was a central figure in artistic circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Publisher of Oscar Wilde and Stephen Crane, mentor to a young Kahlil Gibran, adviser and friend to photographers Alvin Langdon Coburn and Edward Steichen, Day lived a life devoted to art and beauty. At the turn of the twentieth century, his reputation rivaled that of Alfred Stieglitz.
A pioneer in the field of pictorial photography, Day was also an influential book publisher in the Arts and Crafts tradition. He cofounded the publishing company of Copeland and Day, which issued more than a hundred titles between 1893 and 1899. In addition, he embraced a unique sense of social responsibility and a commitment to historic preservation.
Colorful and sometimes eccentric, Day was best known for his stunningly original, brilliantly executed, and sometimes controversial photographic images of blacks, children, and allegorical subjects. His determination to promote photography as a fine art led him to create photographic representations of the crucifixion of Christ, studies for which he was his own model.
Although he continued to mentor young artists until his death, ill health caused Day to spend the last fourteen years of his life inside his home in Norwood, Massachusetts. By the time he died in 1933, he was virtually unknown, but in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in his art.
Responding to this renewed interest, Patricia Fanning has written an impressive biography one that draws on previously unavailable archival material and is attuned to the historical and cultural contexts in which Day lived and worked. The book is illustrated with more than a hundred photographs, including 32 duotone illustrations of the artist s work.
Making a Presence: F. Holland Day in Artistic Photography (Addison Gallery of American Art) by Mr. Trevor Fairbrother
Paperback: 132 pages
Publisher: Addison (June 12, 2012)
Amazon: Making a Presence: F. Holland Day in Artistic Photography
Boston photographer Fred Holland Day (1864–1933) first distinguished himself in literary circles—as a critic, bibliophile, and co-founder of the progressive publishing firm Copeland and Day—before turning to photography in the 1880s. By the turn of the century, he had established an international reputation as a leader in the Pictorialist movement, striving to gain acceptance for photography as a fine art.
Day's work ranged from intimate portraits of friends and fellow artists, to elaborate, costume-driven self-portraiture, including his Jesus Christ series, photographed in rural settings near his home in Norwood, Massachusetts. Especially illuminating of Day's dual role as artist and advocate are the 50 plus images, reprised here, from a 1902 exhibition, in which Day posed for "leaders in the newer photographic methods" to demonstrate that the camera could be as expressive and sensitive an artistic tool as the brush or the etcher's needle.
Making a Presence offers a dynamic composite portrait of an iconoclastic, independent artist, and of a man exquisitely expressive of his fin-de-siècle milieu.
Slave to beauty: The eccentric life and controversial career of F. Holland Day, photographer, publisher, aesthete by Estelle Jussim
Hardcover: 309 pages
Publisher: D. R. Godine; First Edition edition (1981)
Amazon: Slave to beauty: The eccentric life and controversial career of F. Holland Day, photographer, publisher, aesthete
More Photographers at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art
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