A native of Massachusetts and reared the son of a stockbroker, E.C. Dana’s initial schooling was that of a clerk. One of the talents he retained to the end of his life was an ability to record information in stenographic shorthand. He became fascinated with photography during the Civil War, when images of the conflict appeared in public places in Boson. He received instruction in the art under Boston photographer James W. Turner.
He opened his first studio in Brooklyn, New York, in 1875. The success he enjoyed there prompted him to relocate to Manhattan, opening a gallery on the corner of 14th Street & 6th Avenue. He began winning medals for portraiture with some regularity in the last part of the 1880s. His abandonment of painted backgrounds marked the pictorial breakthrough that advanced his portraiture into national notice. His recognition as a first rank professional came with his 1887 Gold Medal.He continued to garner numerous awards, including a gold medal for portraiture at the Photographers’ Association of America (PAA) convention of 1891, an award of merit in photography at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and a bronze medal for portraiture in the PAA convention of 1894.
He celebrated his status by moving to 872 Broadway. Attentive to advances in photo-reproduction in periodicals, Dana made the acquaintance of many of the persons most adept in half-tone printing. He also became one of the younger generation of photographers who was making the transition from direct public sales of images to the public to sales of images to editors, oftentimes securing producers to finance publicity sittings that would later appear in print.
Dana was particularly fortunate in securing the services of George A. Connor as his head printer. Dana collaborated with Connor in experimenting with printing processes, inventing a form of carbonette negative (collodion paper squeezed onto ground glass) and then Ivorette print, a brilliantly clear portrait printed on half-gloss cream cards. The broad notice Dana received from his placements in newspapers and magazines enabled him to undertake expansion in the 1890s. He opened branches in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn (run by operator George P. Roberts) and was in the midst of another relocation of his headquarters up Broadway when he died at age 44. His chief assistant at the time of his death was J.E. Giffin.
The circumstances of Dana’s final months were peculiarly poignant. He had been courting Ada B. Sherman when he contracted cancer. Impatient of the scheduled date of the nuptials, Dana married her suddenly on Christmas 1896, announcing that he and his bride would take their wedding trip when he recovered. He survived two months. She stood over his grave in at the Episcopal Church in Woburn, Massachusetts on March 5, 1897.
NOTES: E.C. Dana, Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin 28 (1897), 127. Marriage, New York Herald Tribune (Dec 26, 1896), 5. Obituary, New York Herald Tribune (Mar 1, 1897), 2. "Famous Photographer," Boston Journal (Mar 2, 1897). "Edward C. Dana," Boston Daily Advertiser (Mar 3, 1897). David S. Shields/ALS