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Frederick Bushnell

Time Period: 
1890-1920
Location: 
San Francisco; branches in additional West Coast Cities
Biography: 

(1858-1903)

Founder of the of the major West Coast photographic studio chains, Frederick Bushnell internalized the business plan of his employer Theodore C. Marceau. Marceau's usual business method was to hire the most capable photographer available in a city, offer a partnership deal with the person, and leave the business to the operator. Bushnell realized the virtues of this business plan and began establishing a chain of franchises,  hiring photographers for the San Francisco studio, training them, and setting them up in various West Coast cities.

Bushnell understood a photographic chain had to offer a diversified buffet of services. And since celebrity images put the brand's name before the public, theatrical portraits produced at a financial loss were a publicity gain when the prominence of the brand brought society into the galleries for portrait work. In yet another move to multiply services, his operators, Lawrence F. Terkelson, G. Edson Porter, W.G. Harris, or Charles J. Wall, performed school, business, and event work.

Once his assistants demonstrated the business acumen and camera proficiency to run a studio solo, Bushnell would finance the creation of a branch gallery. In San Jose, he set up W.G. Harris. In Oakland, he installed G. Edson Porter. Charles Wall headed the Sacramento branch. Lawrence Terkelson served as manager in the San Francisco studio. Bushnell worked dilignetly to insure that his studio would be the best appointed gallery in the city, and built local goodwill by hiring artisans and workmen in the city to construct and appoint the premises.

Bushnell absorbed the lessons of Napoleon Sarony about making himself a public figure. In San Francisco, where sport (fishing, yachting, boxing, and shooting) organized masculine sociability, Bushnell became a crack sportsman. He was a regionally competitive rifleman, regularly appearing at the club competitions at the shell mound. Each autumn he trekked into the wild with companions for fishing or hunting excisions lasting upwards of several weeks. (In 1899 he and a companion became snowbound and were feared lost). His yacht--the Cuckoo--was deemed the most elaborately decorated in San Francisco harbor, and became the site of some of the most lavish episodes in the party life of the the city's high society. Bushnell's art bore directly on these sporting past-times only in regard to boxing. He was the great West Coast recorder of the sport, and even illustrated detailed articles on proper and improper technique in pugilism.

Late in 1902, Bushnell began to experience fevers. In March 1903, he died of shock from two surgeries to correct appendicitis. At the time of F.H. Bushnell's death, his estate was valued at $112,000. L.F. Terkelson took over direction of the San Francisco studio and kept it a vital concern for a generation. It was Terkelson who collected a published the photographic record of the earthquake damage to San Francisco in 1906.

From 1892 to 1907, Bushnell's San Francisco studio occupied adjoining buildings at 1508 and 1510 Market Street. In 1907 his successors moved his headquarters to 632 Van Ness.

NOTES: "Belvedere's perfect Night in Venice," San Francisco Call (Aug 4, 1894), 6 - (description of the extravagant ark parties). "The Poster Photograph, the latest Fad," San Francisco Call (Oct 13, 1901), 12 - (on postographs). Anthony's Photographic Bulletin 32 ( 1901), 229-31 - (a series of queries and answers by Bushnell and operators at several of his branches). David S. Shields/ALS

Specialty: 

Bushnell preferred to call his art "fotography." He observed, "The photographer must keep in mind that his patrons are buying pictures of themselves. They see themselves every day in the glass, and when they buy a picture they want themselves presented in a new and attractive light." Bushnell injected attractiveness and novelty into his portraits by posing, by retouching, and by using novel representational techniques. When the carbon print made a splash in the 1890s, he embraced it for a period. When Reutlinger's art nouveau images of women with their half-graphic, half-photographic style appeared in San Francisco in 1900, Bushnell determined he would create an analogue. In 1901 he began printing images on paper congenial to watercolor and then tinting the images. The images were surrounded with art nouveau patterned vines--half poster, half photograph--he called them postographs.