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Ben Pinchot

Time Period: 
1927-1945
Location: 
48th St. & 5th Ave., 52 W. 52nd St., NYC
Biography: 

(1890-1986)

Ben Pinchot established his photographic studio in 1927 renting the fifth floor of the building on the northeast corner of 48th Street & Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. He immediately made an impression as a new talent among theatrical photographers. In December 1932 he declared bankruptcy, in order to break his lease, and listed liabilities of $73,000 and no assets. In 1933, after the bankruptcy was discharged, he moved with his wife, the novelist Ann Pinchot to an apartment at 52 52nd Street, the raffish center of jazz and after-hours nightlife in Manhattan. There he fashioned a studio in the apartment and his wife hosted a famous salon where the musicians playing on "Swing Street," actors, and writers consorted. From 1933 until the birth of their daughter in 1937, the apartment was one of the vibrant centers of artistic life in the city.

In 1935 he published with Bridgman Publishers, along with a concurrent London publication by John Lane, a collection of black and white drape shots and nudes entitled, Female Form. 1934 marked the year of his arrival as a force in the market, when he suddenly became an A-list photographer, one whom a producer or a magazine editor would call first (Florence Vandamm or Alfredo Valente were also on that list.)

In the mid-1940s the Pinochots moved to Stanford, Connecticut, and became active in civic life there. The Pinchots enjoyed a collaborative marriage, with Pinochot contributing images and sometimes prose to Ann's books, particularly 1949's Hear This Woman. One offshoot of his involvement with his wife's literary engagements was his increasing interest in photographing authors. In the late 1930s and early 1940s his portraits of novelists and poets were ubiquitous in American newspapers and magazines.

NOTES: NY Times (May 4, 1927), 34. NY Times (Dec 29, 1932), 36. NY Times (Apr 24, 1955), 84. David S. Shields/ALS

Specialty: 

Ben Pinchot possessed a dramatic sense of lighting, frequently positioning spots (stark or diffused) above a sitter. He had a painterly sense of print tone and a quirky taste for capturing performers at their most extreme. His initial impression was made with extraverts behaving extravagantly. But in the late 1930s, when he became enamored of photographing writers, he developed a knack for communicating the character of introverts. Pinchot shot portraits, theater production shots, prop photography, and occasional experimental prints that he bestowed on artist friends. His nudes were among the best of the 1930s.

Prior to 1934, because money was often scarce, Pinchot would undertake assignments of any sort for periodicals, including architectural photography and events. After 1934, when he "arrived," he concentrated on character studies of dancers, actors, and operatic singers, nudes, artistic experiments, and scene shots of plays and operas that interested him.