Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Through an Uncommon Lens

Through an Uncommon Lens: The Life and Photography of F. Holland Day

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Through an Uncommon Lens
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-088-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. xvii-xxv)

    In an impassioned defense of photography as an art, F. Holland Day went on to describe the path photographers must take to transform a hobby into something more, and the passion, sensibility, and care that are essential components in the creation of any work of art. He further indicated the selfless devotion to art and beauty rather than to fame or fortune that characterized photographic artists of his age: “They have not dreamed of the joys of glory. They have not thought of money. They have sought but pleasure; … [which] has given more beautiful things to art than has...

  6. ONE Roots and Wings
    (pp. 1-15)

    On a warm, fair New England spring day in 1883, Lyman Smith was laid to rest.¹ Fred Holland Day, the only child of Smith’s only daughter, was eighteen and poised on the verge of adulthood: one foot was firmly planted in the past, the small town of Norwood, Massachusetts, fifteen miles south of Boston, sheltered, pampered, and comfortable; the other reached tentatively for the future. Within the month he sailed on the Cunard Line, embarking on his first European trip as he and his classmates from Chauncy Hall, a liberal preparatory school located near Copley Square in Boston, took in...

  7. TWO A Circle of Friends
    (pp. 17-39)

    In August 1889, while traveling in France, Fred Holland Day engaged in a long-distance discussion about “happiness” with Gertrude Savage, former Chauncy Hall classmate and daughter of Boston minister J. Minot Savage. In this correspondence Day expressed “a very distinct dislike for the word,” feeling, rather, that “contentmentcovers all that is best for a human being to have.” In one of his rare shared reflections he elaborated on what contentment meant to him: “In it there is an indescribable something—a peacefulness—an understanding that life with its ills and joys is as it should be, that we are...

  8. THREE 69 Cornhill
    (pp. 41-59)

    Close by the rooms where the Visionists debated art, literature, and philosophy late into the night, the publishing firm of Copeland and Day took up occupancy on the upper floor at 69 Cornhill in a picturesque area of Boston described by Guiney as “a hive of bookstalls” and artist supply shops.Book Newscorrespondent Nathan Dole recollected climbing up “two flights of straight and narrow stairs” to enter a cozy bookcase-lined room. Visitors noted “the air of quiet dignity and ‘tone’” of the office with “beautiful tooled bindings and folios exquisitely printed add[ing] to the bookishness of the place.” Set...

  9. FOUR A Studio of His Own
    (pp. 61-85)

    In the late summer of 1886 Fred Day borrowed a camera from fellow “Chauncyite” Sam Bryant and spent his vacation taking pictures. As subsequent letters to Carrie Van Horn and Gertrude Savage indicated, he enjoyed the pastime immensely, acknowledging that he “had some pretty good success for a ‘youngster’ at it.”¹ Day saw the hobby as beneficial to his grangerizing and historical interests. He had often invested in images, including lithographs and etchings, to augment his extra-illustrated volumes. Once he held a camera in his hand, he immediately began “taking views” of old buildings and literature-related sites, photos he previously...

  10. FIVE “The Embodiment of a Prayer”
    (pp. 87-109)

    When English photographer George Davison wrote to Alfred Stieglitz in June 1895 that he had “happened on one excellent artist out there. Mr. Day (a publisher) of Boston,” Day had been involved in serious photography for only a few years.¹ As he began to see photography as a vehicle for his own artistic expression, he simultaneously experimented in both portraiture and allegorical studies, using subjects and themes from history and literature. Some early attempts resulted in mini–tableaux vivants, such as depicting designer Ethel Reed as the enigmatic shepherdess from Chloe (plate 7) and actress Julia Arthur as a dramatic...

  11. SIX “Behold, It Is I!”
    (pp. 111-133)

    A few months prior to Day’s stunning debut at the 1895 London Salon, Rudolf Eickemeyer, the second American to be elected to the Linked Ring, wrote to Alfred Stieglitz that Day had seemingly “hewn his way through a virgin forest.”¹ Without engaging in competition or politics, unable to print from his negatives, disdainful of technical training, instead advocating the study of past artistic masters, Day had appeared on the photographic scene fully conceived, as if from nowhere.² To someone as single-minded and ambitious as Stieglitz, Day’s emergence must have been disconcerting. The New Yorker had labored for more than a...

  12. PLATES
    (pp. None)
  13. SEVEN “To Start Anew … ”
    (pp. 135-159)

    The world had changed dramatically during the year and a half Fred Holland Day had been away from Boston. Oscar Wilde had died in November 1900, penniless and desolate in a Paris hotel just as Day was preparing his New School exhibition at the Photo-Club there. His death brought to a close a remarkably influential, controversial, and ultimately tragic life. Less than two months later, as the world entered the twentieth century, the dominant figure of the previous era, Queen Victoria, passed away at the age of eighty-one, ending her more than sixty-year reign and sending England into extended mourning....

  14. EIGHT The Chalet
    (pp. 161-185)

    In April 1910, within a month of his father’s death, Fred Day, aged forty-five, documented the blast of rock that initiated the transformation of his Five Islands, Maine, coastal property. By the time it was completed some three years later, a pier, pergola, and chalet-styled house had emerged between a gentle rise of land and the jagged cliffs overlooking the water. The pier was the essential first stage of the conversion. According to Day’s handwritten account, the cornerstone at the pier was officially laid on the Fourth of July 1910 “by Elisha Field who with the assistance of his son...

  15. NINE Solitude
    (pp. 187-205)

    Although Fred Holland Day spent his last fourteen years in his Norwood home (figure 68), it was neither a sudden nor a complete withdrawal from the world. After the 1916 summer in Maine he remained close to Norwood and his “ageing and invalid mother,” tending to her needs as he had his father’s.¹ He invested in an automobile and traveled in and about Boston to keep up with acquaintances and activities, but in the spring of 1917 he informed Jane White that he was no longer taking pictures. “The regret I feel at your giving up photography is most sincere,”...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 207-210)

    Although the obituary that ran in the local newspaper mentioned Day’s photographic career, his death caused no stir in broader artistic circles. As one scholar noted, “The modesty Day chose to live by had consequences.”¹ He had been out of the limelight for close to thirty years, and artistic photography had evolved from the impressionistic Pictorialism of his era to the sharp edges and clarity of Modernism. His work as a publisher was known only to collectors and connoisseurs, and the bulk of his surviving photographs were housed largely beyond the public eye at the Library of Congress in Washington,...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 211-246)
  18. Index
    (pp. 247-255)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 256-257)