Rudolf Eickemeyer’s photography combined the technological calculation of his engineer father and the aestheticism of the amateur photography clubs that nurtured his art in the 1880s. Purchasing his first camera in 1884, Eickemeyer devoured the ample periodical literature on the practice of camera craft and embraced the artistic ambition of the rising generation. In 1893 he began exhibiting his works in international exhibitions, winning praise for his figure studies. By 1894 he had perfected the strategy for creating prize pictures, imbuing portraits with allegorical resonance, genre scenes with pictorial dynamism, and landscapes with moody texture and startling dramatic foregrounds.
His work was cherished in England particularly. In one competition in Newcastle-upon-Tyne he copped first prize in genre, landscape, and portrait divisions. He and Alfred Stieglitz were invited to join the exclusive circle of British art photographers, the Linked Ring. His lack of an anti-commercial bias made Eickemeyer unusual within the Ring’s membership. For Stieglitz and many in the transatlantic art photography movement, the corporate portrait photography studio typified by Pach Brothers, Sarony, and Marceau Studio in New York represented the antithesis of art. They provided vain cliches for cash. Eickemeyer, however, believed wholeheartedly in the business ideology of the emerging Arts and Crafts movement; beauty could be imbued in the objects of everyday life, provided skilled eyes and hands directed their manufacture.
With the New York bon vivant James L. Breese, Eickemeyer opened Carbon Studio in a Fifth Avenue townhouse in 1895. The partnership lasted until 1900 when Breese’s interest turned to automobiles and marriage. Eickemeyer then collaborated with Herbert Morand in founding the New York City branch of Campbell Studio where he continued his work in portraiture until 1905, when he bought half interest in the Davis & Sanford Studio after Sanford's retirement. Davis & Eickemeyer maintained this partnership until 1909 when Campbell Studio lured Eickemeyer back into the firm by setting him up in a studio located in the Waldorf Astoria hotel. He remained active there until 1915.
Eickemeyer’s commercial work for Carbon and Campbell Studios had two components: traditional commissioned portraiture for society clients, and supplying the burgeoning periodical press with photographic illustrations. The 1890s saw a great improvement in half-tone printing processes enabling the mass distribution of images. From 1895 onward Eickemeyer was a presence in the major illustrated magazines of the day, receiving name credit and sometimes noting studio affiliation. Carbon Studio maintained an interest in the world of entertainment, but it was not until Eickemeyer’s work with Campbell Studio, particularly after his sittings with starlet-celebrity Evelyn Nesbit, that he began to explore pictorially the charisma of stage performers. The photographer ceased being an active force in the world of visual arts in 1916, but continued photographing and writing articles about technique and aesthetics until 1926. David S. Shields/ALS
When pictorialism went foggy in the last years of the 19th century, Eickemeyer was held up as the artistic alternative to the Salon style. To emphasize the difference, his exhibition prints became increasingly narrative in implication, resolutely representational, and sometimes moral in point. The sentimental ethnography of his images of rural life in 1901’s picture book, The Old Farm, and black sharecropper families in his 1902 book, Down South, would seem increasingly old fashioned with every passing year of the 20th century.
Yet Eickemeyer had his fascinations with the pleasure of the simply visual. His book devoted to representing Winter had the sort of clear focus sharpness that anticipated the Ansel Adams aesthetic. Furthermore, his theater and movie star portraits for Campbell contributed as much as Adolph De Meyer's in creating the emerging grammar of glamour photography. Eickemeyer’s portrait style influence Frank Geisler and Alfred Cheney Johnston particularly.