Philip Rose exemplified the entrepreneurial photographer who restlessly strove for greater professional renown, access to sitters, and more advanced equipment. Born and trained in Cincinnati, given his first professional opportunity in Galveston, Texas, exploiting connections and a growing national reputation to secure backing for a photography palace in Providence, Rhode Island, and culminating his career with a Fifth Avenue studio in Manhattan managed by his friend W.H. Sands, Rose parleyed modest prospects into a firm place in the ranks of the great portraitists of the late nineteenth century.
Probably working as a studio boy with James Landy, Rose left Ohio at age fifteen or sixteen. He first appears in Galveston working as a camera operator for Solomon T. Blessing's photographic studio in 1874. Artist Louis Eyth ran the studio operation, while Blessing concentrated on the photographic stock business with his brother John Blessing. Eyth knew the aesthetics of portraiture, Rose the mechanics of photograph making. In three years he absorbed the artistic aspects of picture taking, and Blessing invited him into a full partnership in the studio. The firm became Blessing & Rose, located at 174 Tremont. While portraiture comprised an important component of the studio's work, Rose found himself doing architectural photography, event work, and the conversion of people's daguerreotypes into paper prints.
Rose became a force in national photographic associations in 1880, serving as an officer from Texas in the Photographers' Association of America. He used the national networks to secure equipment and expertise. In 1883 he journeyed east to view the state of the art and to contract with photographic supply companies. It was this trip that stimulated the ambition to relocate to Rhode Island's chief city, Providence. In Rose's eyes it was underserviced by photographers, offered substantial promise of society, celebrity, and event work.
Rose arrived in Providence in 1886, opening a palatial studio--Ye Rose Studio--in the five-story Conrad Building. He kept his Galveston studio open in a partnership arrangement with Justus Zahn. Zahn would buy Rose out of the partnership in 1888. In 1891 he received the PAA Cramer award for dry plate portraiture, and second place in large format, 14x17 airbrush pictures.
Rose's fame burgeoned in the 1890s and the studio became an inevitable stop for performers touring New England. A fellow photographer, William A. Sands, convinced Rose to form a partnership, and "Rose & Sands" became an alternate name for Ye Rose for the latter half of the 1890s. Sands soon originated a plan to open a branch studio in Manhattan, which he would oversee and manage, while Rose would visit periodically for photo sessions. This branch studio opened on Fifth Avenue in 1899. It carefully avoided advertising any interest in the celebrity trade in its street displays. An observer in 1900 remarked "Rose & Sands fill their case with 'private' work." Three-quarter length poses with dark backgrounds predominated. The New York studio sought Society trade, while the Providence branch continued its emphasis on theatrical work. Yet having a studio so near the theatrical center of the country insured that performers would avail themselves of the photographers' skill when they heard Rose was in residence. The Manhattan studio closed after three years of business because of the saturation of business in Manhattan. Sands returned to Providence, "Rose & Sands" dissolved, "Ye Rose Studio" maintained its business in the Conrad building, while Sands teamed with William A. Brady to organize "Sands & Brady" studio in Providence. This partnership would also prove short lived. In 1908 Sands was a freelancer working at a small studio at 333 Westminster.
Rose's fashionability as a theatrical photographer waned during the first decade of the 20th century, but he compensated by becoming the favorite photographer for New England's ministers. Into the 1920s, three men and two women kept the business running. Philip Rose worked until his death in 1926.
NOTES: American Amateur Photographer 3 (1891), 296. "Fifth Avenue Showcases," Wilson's Photographic Magazine 37 (1900), 490. "A New Studio," Wilson's Photographic Magazine 36 (1899), 567. Peter E. Palmquist & Thomas R. Kailbourn, "Solomon Thomas Blessing," Pioneer Photographs from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2005), 117. David S. Shields/ALS