Monday, July 28, 2014

Art Historian Displays Innovative Slides

Frederick Mortimer Clapp
Art historian.
Photographic pioneer.
Not really a professor.
On July 28, 1909, the Los Angeles Times reported that Professor Frederick Mortimer Clapp made his first public exhibition “by means of a stereopticon reproduction of paintings of the world’s master artists.” Clapp’s claim was that his color process was better than those employed previously.

Wikipedia notes that prior to his becoming the first Director of the Frick Collection in 1931, Clapp had been the chair of the Art History program at the University of Pittsburgh from 1926. The Dictionary of Art Historians makes it clear that from 1906 to 1908, he was teaching Elizabethan drama and Russian literature at the University of California, Berkeley’s extension school. This clears up why some of the articles on his make reference to public lectures on Shakespeare, while others talks were about the exaltation of the nude in art (Clapp preferred the undraped figure). If the Dictionary of Art Historians is correct, then reports from 1908 of his being a professor at the University of Chicago or Harvard are likely erroneous. To be a real stickler, the term professor was erroneous.
Professor Clapp of the University of California Exhibits Old World Treasures

BERKELEY, July 27.—Prof. Federick Mortimer Clapp, special lecturer in the art department of the summer school of the University of California, today, for the first time, publicly exhibited by means of a stereopticon reproductions of paintings of the world’s great master artists, taken by his secret and improved method of color photography.

Hitherto color photography has been confined largely to reproductions of flowers. The success of Lumiere and Jougla in this line has been conceded, but Prof. Clapp maintains that he has surpassed these men in being able to reproduce the canvases of the great artists in the natural colors.

His success today, in which all of the delicate flesh coloring and shaded tone colorings were reproduced, is considered a triumph.

With the close of the summer session of the university, Prof. Clapp will return to his home in Florence, where he will further pursue his study of the history of art and will carry on experiments in color photography along new lines.
Neither this, nor a later and longer article in the San Francisco Call give any indication of what Clapp’s “secret and improved method of color photography” entailed. I cannot help but think that Clapp would have had an easier time of things if he had not been shooting in stereo.

Also, of course, today’s means for capturing accurate color would have astonished the pioneering Professor Clapp.

Update: I'll admit when I'm wrong. I've had to revise this post, as it was pointed out to me that the stereopticon was not a stereo device, but a slide projector with two (hence "stereo") lenses to allow one slide to dissolve into the other (no irritating black screens followed by flashes of bright light). Not stereo photography, but an interesting bit on early color photography.
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