Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Orleans 1885: Centennial Photographic Company.....

The offices of the Centennial Photographic Company were located on the second-floor gallery of the Main Building, at the massive structure’s south-east corner. The company was founded in 1875 by Edward L. Wilson, Ph.D., a local Philadelphia photographer & lecturer, and editor of the United States’ leading photography magazine “The Philadelphia Photographer”. Immediately after establishing the Centennial Photographic Company, Wilson obtained the exclusive rights to photograph the grounds, buildings, and exhibits of the 1876 U.S. Centennial Exhibition, to be held in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Wilson’s foresight in realizing the need for an official photographic concession at the exposition allowed the company to become quite successful and profitable. In addition to operating a complete photographic studio on the grounds, Wilson sent photographers out to search the exposition for interesting and marketable scenes to photograph. Photographic views were produced in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional card-mounted formats, in addition to glass slides made for use in magic-lantern projectors. The three-dimensional images were marketed as stereoviews, with over 1,300 different images of the exposition being produced. After a successful and profitable period at the Centennial, Wilson organized an 1881-82 photographic expedition to the middle-east. A large series of stereoviews were produced and marketed as “Scenes In The Orient”, with over 650 subjects being photographed. In early 1884 Wilson became aware of the upcoming World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition to be held in New Orleans. He was able to establish the exclusive rights to photograph the exposition and ultimately produced over 1,700 images, including scenes of New Orleans and vicinity, in mono, stereo, and glass-slide formats. All official photographs of the exposition were produced by Wilson and his team of photographers, including images used for advertising purposes, and photographs of employees and visitors for season-passes. The Centennial Photographic Company’s New Orleans exposition offices consisted of a photography studio; a lab for developing, printing, and mounting; and a sales counter. Wilson’s overall success at the 1884-85 event can only be estimated, based on the exposition’s lack of attendance and ultimate financial failure. The financial losses that Wilson probably suffered at New Orleans most likely resulted in his decision, in the early 1890’s, to sell the entire Centennial Photographic Company, including all photographic images, to Roberts & Fellows, of Philadelphia.

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