Singer, painter, photographer, art collector, dealer, cultural administrator, Alfredo Valente (1899-1973) was among the most cultured of the camera artists who chronicled Broadway. Born in Calabria, Italy, trained as a fine artist and also as an opera singer, he came to the United States in 1927. For several years he sang in public, a career that culminated in a not too successful performance of "Aida" in 1930 with the Civic Opera.
Valente's career as a visual artist went better. In 1931, he became the photographer for the Group Theater, the experimental repertory company organized by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg. His images evoked the seriousness of that idealistic troupe and established his bona fides on Broadway. By March 1933, he was publishing regularly in magazines and in newspapers. Through the 1930s Valente (along with Gray-O'Reilly Studio) worked for Stage, then the chief monthly chronicling Broadway. Like James Abbe a decade before, Valente made a specialty of portraying performers in costume, but not performing their parts. These full page character-portraits became his 1930s trademark. By 1937, he had eclipsed Maurice Goldberg, who was increasingly involved in Hollywood, as the arts photographer of choice at the New York Times. At various points during 1935-37 he worked as a contract photographer shooting publicity for Columbia Pictures.
Throughout his career, he was intimately connected with the painting community in New York. In 1952, he exhibited at the New School twenty-eight portraits of New York painters accompanying their own self portraits. He invested the profits of his portrait business in paintings, collecting substantial bodies of workd by Raphael Soyer, Kuniyoshi, and Ben Shahn. By 1959, the value of these paintings had risen to such extent that Valente closed his portrait studio and founded the Alfredo Valente Gallery at 119 W. 57th Street in Manhattan. In January 1964, the Chase Manhattan Bank exhibited a show devoted to his work entitled, "The Personal and Private Eye of the Photographer."
His last hurrah as a theatrical photographer occurred when he agreed to be chief lensman for the lavish but short-lived Show magazine in the 1960s. After Show folded, he became the voluntary, unpaid curator of the New York Cultural Center established by Farleigh Dickinson University.
NOTES: NY Times (Nov 4, 1964), X:21. Jacob Deschin, "Photo Plans at Cultural Center," NY Times (Sep 10, 1969), D:20. Obituary NY Times (Jun 29, 1973), 40. David S. Shields/ALS
Alfred Valente produced dramatically lit, richly toned stage pictures. His rise correspondended with the 1930s reaction against the artistic manipulations of prints performed by M. I. Boris, G. Maillard Kesslere, and Hal Phyfe in the late 1920s. Influenced by the representational painters of the 1930s, he believed straight portraiture could be rendered dramatic by camera angles and lighting, so artistic effect was achieved in the set up of the shot by dynamic arrangement of the subject rather than by the manipulation of the negative. Interestingly, however, his portrait work for film studios tends to have lighter backgrounds than his stage portraiture.
Valente signed his exhibition works in pencil in the lower margin or on white mounting board. His theatrical publicity work was usually stamped on the back.