Born in Plymouth, England, James Samuel Windeatt was apprenticed at the studio of court photographer W.&D. Downey. Upon reaching 21 years of age, Windeatt emigrated to America, living briefly with relatives in Cleveland, Ohio, before finding employment in 1884 with Max Platz as camera operator at Platz’s 88 Clark Street Studio in Chicago. Platz appreciated his assistant's familiarity with the protocols of celebrity posing and was happy to have someone familiar with the rather simpler method of posing bust shots in English portraiture. WIndeatt worked as Platz's chief operator for a decade and ran the studio during the photographer's final illness.
Upon Platz's death in 1894, Windeatt entered into a partnership with the financially astute Joseph W. Gehrig to take over Platz's negatives and clientele. The partnership lasted three years when Gehrig sought its dissolution. Windeatt moved his studio into the Eureka Building at 155 W. Madison. For a little over a decade, he enjoyed success as the most refined of Chicago's celebrity photographers. The meteoric rise in influence of Moffett studio (founded 1905), made Windeatt rethink his business model as he watched his studio's revenue decline from 1905 through 1907. In 1908 he removed to the burgeoning suburb of Oak Park and became that famous neighborhood's chief recorder and portraitist from 1908 until his retirement in 1934. The Oak Park Studio was located at 310 S. Boulevard.
Windeatt's photography of the 1890s and 1900s reflected the move toward simplicity in theatrical portraiture. Often the backgrounds are featureless expanses of varied tone. When backpaintings were used, to evoke a theatrical scene, they were often rendered so out of focus as to become abstract architectural shapes. Roles were indicated by costume and gesture, not so much by setting. The one British legacy visible in his portraiture was the avoidance of deep shadows.
Windeatt's photographic archive remains in the possession of his descendants in Chicago.
NOTES: Excellent genealogy for Windeatt: http://www.windeatt.f2s.com/windeatt/staverton/james.htm. David S. Shields/ALS