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Frank Eugene

Frank Eugene Smith

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Frank Eugene (19 September 1865 – 16 December 1936) was an American-born photographer who was a founding member of the Photo-Secession and one of the first university-level professors of photography in the world.

Eugene was born in New York City as Frank Eugene Smith. His father was Frederick Smith, a German baker who changed his last name from Schmid after moving to America in the late 1850s. His mother was Hermine Selinger Smith, a singer who performed in local German beer halls and theaters.

About 1880, Eugene began to photograph for amusement, possibly while he was attending the City College of New York. In 1886, he moved to Munich in order to attends the Bayrische Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts). He studied drawing and stage design.

After he graduated from the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, he started a career as a theatrical portraitist, drawing portraits of actors and actresses. He continued his interest in photography, although little is known of his teachers or influences.

He returned to the United States, and in 1899, he exhibited photographs at the Camera Club in New York under name Frank Eugene. The critic Sadakichi Hartmann wrote a review of the show, saying "It is the first time that a truly artistic temperament, a painter of generally recognized accomplishments and ability asserts itself in American photography."

A year later he was elected to The Linked Ring, and fourteen of his prints were shown that year in a major London exhibition. Already at this stage in his career he had developed a highly distinctive style that was influenced by his training as a painter. He assertively manipulated his negatives with both scratches and brush strokes, creating prints that had the appearance of a blend between painting and photography. When his prints were shown at the Camera Club in New York, one reviewer commented that his work was "unphotographic photography."

In the summer of 1900, an entire issue of Camera Notes was devoted to his art, an honor accorded only a few other photographers.

In early 1901, he traveled to Egypt. He returned a few months later and met with photographer F. Holland Day in Narragansett, R.I., during the summer. In late 1902, Eugene becomes a Founder of the Photo-Secession and a member of its governing Council. In 1904, a gravure of his was published in Camera Work, No. 5 (January).

In 1906, Eugene moved permanently to Germany. He was recognized there both as a painter and a photographer, but initially he worked primarily with prominent painters such as Fritz von Uhde, Hendrik Heyligers, Willi Geiger, and Franz Roh. He photographed many of these and other artists at the same time. He also designed tapestries that he used as backgrounds in his photographs.

A year later he became a lecturer on pictorial photography at Munich’s Lehr-und Versuchs-anstalt fur Photo graphie und Reproduktions-technik (Teaching and Research Institute for Photography and the Reproductive Processes). At this point, photography rather than painting became his primary interest. He experimented with the new color process of Autochromes, and three of his color prints are exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession Galleries in New York.

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