Joseph Hall built his photography business in Brooklyn in the wake of the Civil War. Adept at chemistry and inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit that galvanized the northern cities, Hall became a "Manufacturing Photographer," a camera artist with the skills and equipment to mass produce carte de visite portraits and albumin prints for public consumption. He belonged to the handful of pioneers who produced photo-illustrated books in the 1860s documenting the picturesque Brooklyn burial park, Greenwood Cemetery in Gems of the Greenwood (1868).
From his entry into business, Hall advertised his services and images in periodicals, particularly large format photo compositions such as 1868's 20x27 inch "Washington as a Mason," with an actor rigged up as the first president, accoutered in apron and sashes. He followed the example of the Civil War photographers, outfitting a mobile van so he could transport his camera and set-up to locales in the metropolitan area capturing images of individuals and groups of people in the open air.
Among devotees of early baseball, Hall is regarded as the premier photographer of the professional teams and players of the 1880s. His large format plein aire images of uniformed teams in ball parks have become the most collectible prints of the late 19th-century game, fetching $5,000 minimum per image. Most were taken in 1888. His individual player portraits in the Old Judge series of cards rank among the finest of dead ball era. They were taken when visiting teams played New York squads, and developed in his studio at 349 Fulton Street, Brooklyn.
Benjamin "Jake" Falk succeeded in producing production shots of theatrical productions in 1883 by lighting the dark interior expanses of New York theaters with electric light. Hall embraced an alternative illumination method, magnesium "flash light" photography, which enabled a brighter, more saturated illumination of large building interiors than arc lighting. In 1890 Hall won the "Medal of Superiority" for flash photography at the 59th meeting of the American Institute.
Since Falk was gaining more profit with studio sittings, Hall dominated the market for production stills until the appearance of Englishman Joseph Byron early in the 1890s. He also experimented with Stereoview images during the Stereo craze of the final decade of the century. To better exploit the commercial photography market, Hall moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan, establishing a gallery at the corner of Broadway and 34th Street. From 1893 to 1905 Hall and Byron photographed many of the important dramas, operas, and musical comedies in New York City. His image catalogues of the 1905-1910 period were unique in offering images identified by play title rather than by performer.
The formation of Luther White's "White Studio" in 1904 marked the a period of intense commercial rivalry for the scene still trade. When White Studio bought out Joseph Byron in 1910, the market advantage moved in his favor. Increasingly, White supplanted Hall as the photographer of choice by producers. Hall did keep the immense Hippodrome theater and Charles Dillingham as loyal clients into 1915.
NOTES: National Freemason 8 (1868), 383. Hall’s Portrait Studio 1910 [catalogue]. David S. Shields/ALS
Hall made his reputation as a flashlight photographer of production stills who could set up and develop prints more quickly than Joseph Byron. He was adept at his craft, and paid Byron the honor of imitating his work, including the use of scene pictures taken from perspective points on stage. After the turn of the 20th century he supplemented his scene work with portraits of performers. These were character shots in costume for the most part and bore the legend, "Hall's Studio." Most of the portraits were in the cabinet format, while the majority of his production stills were 11x14.