Chicago's most thoughtful portraitist in the 1880s, Max Platz began his career at age 16 as a "positionist" in brother-in-law Henry Rocher's photographic gallery at 88 North Clark Street. He worked as Rocher's principle assistant from 1867 to 1881, aiding in the rebuilding of his business at 724 Wabash after its destruction in the fire of 1871. Like Rocher, Platz was a native of Germany, having been born at White Castle on the Spree on June 1, 1850. His father, a tanner, moved the family to Racine, Wisconsin, when Max was still a boy. His first job was as secretary to the F. Platz's Sons Leather Company. Office work did not appeal to him, so he moved to Chicago to learn photography with Rocher.
In 1881, Platz set up his own business purchasing the building erected on Rocher's old site at 88 North Clark Street. He enjoyed immediate success. A life-long bachelor and clubman with a reputation for wit, conviviality, and story-telling, he cultivated extensive clienteles in the world of the theatre, German-American society, and fashion. He outfitted his studio in extravagant style: "silk draperies and rich hangings filled his atelier." Like Napoleon Sarony, he collected antiques that served as props in his portraits, yet his style of posing more resembled his friend and contemporary Benjamin Falk.
In the early 1880s Platz was an active member of the Chicago Photographic Association, one of the more effective regional guilds in the United States. He served as treasurer in 1883. When the Columbian Exposition graced The Great White Way in 1893, Platz was one of three Vice-Chairmen (all photographers) who presided over the contents of the Department of Art. Platz had a particular liking for large dimension panel images of first rank stage artists (up to 18 x 22 inches) shot on Cramer & Neidhardt Plates. Platz's printer, J.H. Quigley, urged the photographer to take up use of the M.A. Seed dry plates when they became available. The bulk of Platz's portraiture after 1889 used Seed’s negatives.
Upon Platz's death in 1894 his studio and archive of negatives devolved to partnership composed of his friend and fellow-Rocher student Joseph Gehrig and his pupil, James Samuel Windeatt.
NOTES: "Max Platz," Chicago Board of Trade. Its Leading Members, and Representative Business Men in Other Branches of Trade (New York: Historical Public Co., 1885-86), 205. Charles W. Hearn, "Professional Portraiture IV" Wilson's Photographic Magazine 41 (1904), 4. "Why the Subject of a Photograph Couldn’t Look Pleasant," American Journal of Photography 11, (1890), 182. "Max Platz," Industrial Chicago vol 4 (1894), 627. David S. Shields/ALS
A photographic session with Platz could be quirky, for he was known to disappear mid-sitting to ponder the best pose for a difficulty sitter in a hidden retiring room. His method of conducting a sitting he discussed in print on several occasions: "You know that when people are sitting for pictures they are given an object to keep their eyes fixed on . . . that this object is usually a photograph fixed in a clasp at the top of a stick, which may be raised or lowered to suit the case. Usually there are two photographs back to back—one the picture of a gentleman and the other the likeness of a lady; if the sitter is a gentleman he is given the charmante dame to rest his eyes on; if a lady the gentleman's photograph is turned to meet to meet her gaze."
Though famous as a portraitist, Platz also created artistic genre scenes. He earned the nickname "The Sarony of the West."