Doris Ulmann Still Life
Medium Platinum or related metal print
Photo Date 1920s Print Date 1920s
Dimensions 8-1/16 x 6-3/16 in. (205 x 157 mm)
Photo Country United States (USA)
Photographer Country United States (USA)
Contact Alex Novak and Marthe Smith
About This Image
Provenance: from the collection of John Jacob Niles, her longtime companion and partner. Doris Ulmann (1882-1934) was born and educated in New York City. A graduate of the school of the Ethical Culture Society, a socially liberal organization that championed individual worth regardless of ethnic background or economic condition. Ulmann continued her education at the Columbia University Teacher's College, where she met and studied with photographer Clarence H. White. White was a founding member of Alfred Stieglitz's Photo-Secession and a leader in the Pictorialist movement. When her teacher founded the Clarence H. White School of Photography in 1914, Ulmann took up the study of photography with greater intensity and began establishing herself in the New York photographic community by joining the Pictorialist Photographers of America and publishing her work in their journal, Pictorial Photography in America. During this period, Ulmann photographed many genre scenes, tableaux, and portraits exemplary of the soft-focus Pictorialist style. Ulmann's early work includes a series of portraits of prominent intellectuals, artists and writers: William Butler Yeats, John Dewey, Max Eastman, Sinclair Lewis, Lewis Mumford, Joseph Wood Krutch, Martha Graham, Anna Pavlova, Paul Robeson, and Lillian Gish. In the late 1920s Ulmann found her signature style when she began making trips each summer to document the rural people of the South, particularly the mountain peoples of Appalachia and the Gullahs of the Sea Islands. With a profound respect for her sitters and an ethnographer's eye for culture, Ulmann took portraits and photographs of artisans at work. In 1933, she contributed photographs to Roll, Jordan, Roll, a book by novelist Julia Peterkin about the vanishing black culture, known as Gullah, of the South Carolina islands and coastal areas. Ulmann was accompanied on her rural travels by John Jacob Niles, a Kentucky-born musician and folklorist, who served as a guide and assistant to Ulmann and pursued his own research in Appalachian music, as well. Though smaller, more modern cameras existed, Ulmann insisted on using a 6-1/2" x 8-1/2" view camera to create her platinum contact prints. She also experimented with the processes of gum bichromate and bromoil printing. In early August of 1934, at the age of 50, Ulmann fell ill while photographing subjects near Ashville, North Carolina. She was rushed home to New York City where she died August 28th.
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