Florence Vandamm

By Barbara Cohen-Stratyner
August 5, 2013
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Perhaps the most widely published and least understood visual record of 20th century performing arts, the output of the Vandamm Studio has largely been utilized only as illustrative backdrop for the retelling of Broadway history. The prints, contact sheets, and negatives of theater, music and dance in London (1908–1923) and New York (1924–1963) are among the Library for the Performing Arts's most requested treasures.

Few are aware that the visionary photographer and portraitist who lent her talent and name to the studio was a woman and one who opened her first studio in 1908! With a career spanning over five decades, Florence Vandamm was one of the most prolific and widely published female commercial photographers of the early 20th century. In the upcoming exhibition, Poet of Light: Florence Vandamm & the Vandamm Studio(LPA, Astor Gallery, opens September 18th), and this blog channel, we hope to introduce her and the photographs to her fans on the Digital Library.

There are over three thousand prints, negatives, and key sheets in the Vandamm Collection. There are another thousand, at least, of her photographs in the research divisions' iconography files, acquired from performers, producers, press agents, and periodicals. So selecting a key image was hard. I wanted this early self-portrait.

In October 1911, Florence Vandamm was described as "one of the Rembrandts of Modern Photography" in the Greater London Illustrated [p.12C]. The article, which ran with this self portrait, began: "…she has won medals and prizes at most of the leading exhibitions... she is one of the few who use their camera as an artist can use his brushes... a creative instinct and the wonderful light and shade effects which are so characteristic of her work distinguish it at once in a group. She has not unjustly been called one of the Rembrandts of Modern Photography."