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Frank E. Geisler

Time Period: 
9 East 34th St, NYC; 451 Fifth Ave; Palm Beach


Frank E. Geisler, was born in Hoboken, NJ, as Franz E. Geisler. He came into the profession in 1886 as a photo printer and then society photographer in Cleveland. With graphic artist Bert Brigden he opened "Brigden & Geisler Studio" in the row of art galleries at the Cleveland Arcade. Almost immediately they hired the talented female camera artist F. L. Elton to joing the firm.  Stylish and extravagant, Geisler strained the business with his expenditures.  By Spring 1896 the studio went into receivership. The partners split, with Brigden reopening the studio in summer of 1896 while  Geisler headed east. Ambitious for fame as an artistic photographer he migrated to Albany, New York, in 1896 to join the experimental circle of photographers clustered around Pirie MacDonald and E.S. Sterry in 1897. These artists pioneered a style of portraiture with a dark background, concentrating intense light from an angle on the face and shoulders of a sitter. By the late 1890s, Geisler had become chief photographer for the Albany Art Union, and made a name in national exhibitions as a Society portraitist and with an unconventional eye for posing and a dramatic sense of pictorial texture. At the turn of the century, Geisler signed on as chief operator at Robinson Studio in Boston, but quickly found more remunerative employment in Hartford, CT, as chief operator for Randall Studio. In 1900 he assisted in the organization of the Lens & Brush Club in Boston, a brotherhood of photographers and fine artists devoted to the aesthetic qualities of pictures.  Among his fellow founding members was Will Armstrong. He exhibited in their initial public showings to critical praise and his work first appeared in print as a member of the Club in Wilson's Photographic Magazine  in April 1901 under the name Franz Geisler.

Geisler remained in Hartford until 1904 working for Herbert Randall as chief operator. Ambition then again prompted him to move to a place of greater potentiality.  Signing on with the established New York photographer, Adolph Baumann, Geisler moved to Manhattan.  Banking on association of the Geisler name with the phospherescent tubes being produced in Europe, Frank Geisler entered into the manufacture of photographic materials--dry plate negatives and a spot lamp for studio and home until 1914.  With Baumann he entered for the first time into theatrical photography as well as his usual society and aesthetic scenes. He remained a great force in professional photographic circles, winning First Prize at the Professional Photographers' Club of New York shows for six consecutive years, and the American Trophy three times in a row. In 1914 he was the first New York camera artist to receive credit for photographs in the pages of Vanity Fair. Unfortunately his business sense was not as good as his eye. He split with Baumann; the manufacturing business collapsed, and he shuttered his Fifth Avenue Studio in early 1914.  Ernest Burrow immediately hired him as chief photographer for Sarony Studio where he burnished that establishment's reputation again from 1914 until 1917 and perfected his ability as a photographer of performing artists.  

In 1917 he went independent when Mae Andrews consented to run the business end of the studio, becoming his partner, a status that he recognized by adding her family name to his on his credit line: Geisler-Andrews. Mae Andrews most likely was a relation of J.W. Andrews of Andrews Studio in Atlanta which lasted from 1917-1921. Geisler had met Andrews in 1914 when the Photographer's Association of America met in Atlanta and Geisler became the talk of the meeting with a portrait of Mrs. Walter P. Andrews, the Georgia politician and another relative of J.W. Andrews. (Frank Geisler may have been related to the socially prominent Atlanta Rudolph Geisler family.)

Andrews's stint as business manager ended in 1921. From 1922 to 1925 the photographer worked solo as "F.E. Geisler." In 1925 Geisler formed the "Colby-Geisler" partnership, turning over the bulk of the New York Society shooting to his partner while moving to Palm Beach, as the visual chronicler of that southern outpost of the New York bon ton. Andrews migrated south to Palm Beach as well. The great monument to Geisler's labors in Florida are the 185 gravures of his photographs of The Florida Architecture of Addison Mizner (1928), a classic of Gulf Coast Art Deco. Mizner, who combined architecture with real estate scamming, is known to theater history as one of the two anti-heros of Sondheim's star-crossed 2004 musical, "Bounce."

In the later 1930s Geisler traveled back and forth between Palm Beach and New York. Since 1920 he maintained a home studio in Southhampton on Long Island. For his skills, he was awarded an Associateship by the Royal Photographic Society in London. He died in Palm Beach.

NOTES: "'Tis Here Maybe," The Professional Photographer 83 (1958), 150; Henry Snowden Ward, The Process Photogram vol 5 (London, 1898), 194; "Notes in the U. S. A."Photographers Gather in Atlanta," Atlanta Constitution (Jun 16, 1914), 3. NYT (Nov 16,1913), X6. Obituary Notice, The Camera vol 51 (July-Dec. 1935), 37. David S. Shields/ALS


A skilled and restless artist, Frank Geisler, tried his hand at several genres of photography during his career: theatrical portraiture, ethnographic recording, golf photography, and architectural photography. In New York, he became for a decade the chief rival of Ira L. Hill. He was a talented portraitist and an imaginative early fashion photographer (he shines particularly in the contributions to the fashion section of The Theatre), but could never maintain his business. His photographs of members of the Ziegfeld Follies from 1919-1921 are particularly exciting,--brightly illuminated and dramatically posed--an alternative vision to the richly toned visions of A. C. Johnston.