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John B. Scholl

Time Period: 
1880-1899
Location: 
Chicago
Biography: 

(1857-1824)

Chicago-based photographic entrepreneur John B. Scholl began his career as a shop clerk, pursued graphic arts as a sideline before forming a short-lived partnership with B.A. Mink as fine artists. They jointly occupied as studio at 715 S. Halsted, until Mink dissolved the partnership in 1886. From that point onward, J.B. Scholl identified himself as a photographer. More efficient as a businessman than a camera artist, his fortunes changed markedly for the better in 1890 when he moved his premises to 210 State Street and hired a young Englishman, George Hana as his chief operator.

An effervescent person with a manic imagination, Hana convinced Scholl to identify himself as a theatrical photographer, supplying performer portraits to the public, to editors, and to performers. Hana exploited his connections in the performing community and advertised the business's concentration of theatrical photography at every turn.

By 1891 Scholl Chicago became one of nationally important studios for publicity portraiture, with Hana posing the sittings and overseeing the printing. This heyday lasted six years at the time when the cabinet card trade was waning, and magazine placements grew in importance as sources of revenue. Hana's penchant for novelty pleased editorial eyes. By 1896 Hana had formed a conviction that he should return to London, applying the commercial principles he had absorbed from Scholl and from dealing with periodical publishers. From 1897 through the turn of the century Hana Studios Ltd. in London challenged the established studios—Downey, Ellis, Walery, VanderWeyde—by actively developed advertising imagery as well as celebrity portraiture.

Hana’s skill as a theatrical portraitist lay in an intuitive rapport with sitters, knowing the precise moment when the performer was presenting the personae they wished to project. "Varied and numerous as are Mr. Hana’s sitters, he seems able, in almost every case to catch a series of thoroughly characteristic poses and arrangements." His chief fame at the turn of the century derived from his "mosaic" (composite) portraits in which several scenes and poses of a performer appeared in one 11x14 inch print.

After Hana's departure, Scholl continued with celebrity portraiture, but realized that public portraiture offered a more promising long-term source of income. He shut the State Street studio and opened offices at 553 S. Halsted and 1167 Milwaukee. These supplied him income until shortly before his death.

N.B. John B. Scholl had no connection with Scholl Portrait Studio located at 112 & 114 N. 9th Street in Philadelphia during the 1870s and 1880s. That studio was run by Emil Scholl.

NOTES: "Theatrical Photography," The Photogram 6 (1899), 69-71. David S. Shields/ALS