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The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Presents Pioneering Poet of Light: Photographer Florence Vandamm & the Vandamm Studio


New, Free Exhibition Traces Prolific Career of Florence Vandamm Through Five Decades of Groundbreaking Portraiture and Performance Photography 

In the new exhibition Pioneering Poet of Light: Photographer Florence Vandamm & the Vandamm Studio, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts showcases the work of Florence Vandamm - one of the most prolific and widely published female commercial photographers of the early 20th century - and the legendary studio she founded. The free multi-media exhibition celebrates Vandamm's remarkable career and offers a unique opportunity to understand the photographer's expert and innovative use of light, drawing on materials primarily from the Vandamm Theatrical Photography Collection, with the Library's Billy Rose Theatre Division acquired in 1962.Pioneering Poet of Light: Photographer Florence Vandamm & the Vandamm Studio will be on display in the Astor Gallery September 18, 2013, through February 28, 2014.

"The scope of the Library's Vandamm Theatrical Photography Collection seen in this exhibition reflects the vastness of Florence Vandamm's career itself," said Jacqueline Z. Davis, Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleishman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. "Pioneering Poet of Light traces Vandamm's career from its beginning in London in 1908, through the early '60s when the Studio's New York office closed, exploring an important era of performing arts history and Vandamm's ability to document it so masterfully." 

Curated by Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Ph. D., Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg Curator of Exhibitions for The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Pioneering Poet of Light includes prints, key sheets, clippings from newspapers and magazines, books and promotional flyers, posters and programs documenting the photographer's 50-year career specializing in portraiture and production documentation. The exhibition follows Vandamm from London, where she opened her first studio in 1908, to New York, where Vandamm Studio captured some of the biggest names and productions in theater, dance, music and literature from 1924 through the early '60s: Leonard Bernstein, Marlon Brando, Helen Broderick, Katharine Cornell, Katharine Hepburn, Mary Martin, The Marx Brothers, Dorothy Parker, Gregory Peck, Sybil Thorndike, and Tennessee Williams. Highlights include photos from her years working with The Theater Guild, Inc., and The Neighborhood Playhouse; examples of her interest in dance, seen in keysheets and photos of early New York works by modern dance pioneers Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, as well as the keysheet for George Balanchine's first American company and the premiere of Serenade. The exhibition also presents rarely seen examples of a Vandamm Studio tradition: taking photos of production and stage crew on set, an acknowledgement of often overlooked contributions to a show. 
Florence Vandamm (1882 - 1966) is often credited with inventing the modern head-shot, expanding the 8” x 10” neutral picture beyond its self-promotional function to portray not simply the performers, but their characters, in movement and costume, with photographs that represented the specialties and styles of dancers, actors, authors and comics. Her portraits for flyers and programs excelled at showing motion -- whether in a violinist, a dance manual, or Sybil Thorndike, crawling on the studio floor as Medea. The art of documenting many of the major stage performance of the day also became a mainstay of Vandamm Studio's output and income. Vandamm Studio photographed major plot moments, cast groupings and close-ups to create a package of images for promotion, and also documented every fully dressed set  - both with and without performers - through shots designed to elicit the audience’s view of the scenery for reference by the production teams of theaters along the tour route. Unlike the performance photographers before her, Vandamm's awareness of the sculptural and emotional qualities of light gave her images the impact of being at a live performance. Vandamm's ability to illuminate the subtleties of her subjects' wardrobe, whether it was the intricacies of a character's costume or the glamorous fabrics of a star's gown, also resonated with fashion and society periodicals. Vandamm was a regular contributor of portraits, perfomance photographs and fashion shots for publications including Vogue, Vanity Fair, LIFE, and the society magazine The Spur
To explore images in the Vandamm Theatrical Photography Collection visit
About The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses one of the worlds most extensive combination of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. These materials are available free of charge, along with a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts — whether professional or amateur — the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters and photographs. For more information please visit