Born into a cosmopolitan family of bankers in San Fransisco on October 15, 1879, Francis Bruguiere embraced photography in the spirit of amateur idealism shared by most West Coast pictorial photographers, desiring to marry painting with photography. Trained as fine artist, he viewed photography as a medium for investigating form, space, and mood.
In 1905 Bruguiere moved to New York to commune with the figures who most shaped the pictorial movement. He met Alfried Stiegletz, was introduced to the circle who contributed to Camera Work, and attached himself to Frank Eugene Smith (aka Frank Eugene). He would become a member of the Photo-Secession exhibiting four prints with them in the 1910 Albright Knox Show.
After his year-long sojourn in New York, Bruguiere returned to San Francisco in the wake of the earthquake. He opened a photographic studio in 1906. The West Coast pictorialists were interested in the use of photography in book illustration, and were often collaborators in art book projects. In 1916 poet George Sterling and Bruguiere contributed The Evanescent City, a portrait of buildings at the Pan Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, to this literature. It was followed two years later by San Fransisco, published by H.S. Crocker, Bruguiere's portrait, in twenty-six plates, of the city rebuilt in the wake of the disaster. Its publication marked the summation of his West Coast career.
Feeling there was nothing more he could accomplish and noting the success of Arnold Genthe who had moved from San Francisco to New York in 1911, he moved to Manhattan establishing a studio on 16 West 49th Street. Bruguiere appeared at the outset of a boom in performing arts and fashion photography driven by the theater and by the artistic ambitions of magazines published by Conde Nast and Brewster publications. He became the photographer for the Theater Guild and imbibed their experimental modernist aesthetic. His expressionist production photos were the most evocative stage portraits of the late 1920s. Like the early surrealists, he was fascinated with the idea of making a film, "The Way," generating a non-linear pictorial story board for the production in a set of images that was exhibited in New York (1927) and Berlin (1928) along with his watercolors and drawings. In 1928 Bruguiere moved to London with actress Rosalinde Fuller and shot a short experimental film, "Light Rhythms," noteworthy for its thoroughgoing abstraction.
Equipped with a restless intellect, Bruguiere throughout his life was always seeking the cutting edge of inquiry in the arts. Articulate, deeply informed, and possessed of an exquisite send of form and tone, he was among the least witty of talented photographers. During World War II he turned aside from photography and resumed painting. He died shortly after the armistice.
NOTES: Francis Bruguiere, "Ivan Metrovic," Washington Post 2-23-1925. "Francis Bruguiere's Photographs," NY Times 4-3-1927, X:10. Francis Bruguiere, "Creative Photography," Modern Photography: The Studio Annual of Camera Art 1935-36 (NY: Studio, 1935). Obituary, NYT 5-17-1945. James Enyeart, Bruguiere: His Photographs and His Life (Knopf, 1977). David S. Shields/ALS
Bruguiere's earliest photographs bear the hallmarks of pictorialist style: the idealization of scenes by soft focus, manipulation of the negative to perfect the beauty of portraits, an interest in exotic portrayals of dancers, plein air nudes. Throughout the 1920s his photographs moved from pictorialist mystification to modernist abstraction. He was particularly interested in double exposure, montage, and, later in the decade, the production of abstract constructivist images made of geometric patterns of light. Spending the final years of his life in London, Bruguiere devoted himself to ceaseless experimentation in multiple exposure montage prints of persons and places, stylist modernist advertising imagery, abstract short films examining the play of light on cut paper forms, and solarized figure studies in the style of Man Ray.