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Studio, Gilbert and Bacon

Time Period: 
1870-1925
Location: 
Philadelphia
Biography: 

This long-lived Philadelphia portrait studio evolved out the Trask & Bacon partnership formed in 1870, thrived during the 19th century under the direction of William Frank Bacon (1846-1900) and continued successfully as a theatrical photographer under Frank T. Bacon during the first quarter of the 20t century.

The dominant talent in the Philadelphia photographic partnership, Gilbert & Bacon, William Frank Bacon, was born on June 6, 1843 in Bangor, Maine. He belonged to the second generation of photographers, those whose first acquaintance with the art took place on the battlefields of the Civil War. An enlistee with the 2nd Maine Regiment, Frank Bacon, saw action from the Battle of Bull Run at the start of the war, when the regiment was the last to leave the field on the Union side, to the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. He remained in uniform until the end of the war and repeatedly encountered camera operators in the camps.

After the war Bacon settled in Philadelphia, training in the studio of A.K.P. Trask at 40 N. Eighth St. After mastering the rudiments of the craft, Bacon took employment with New York as an operator with Gurney & Son. There he became a proficient portraitist in camera craft at several galleries there. In 1870 Trask invited Bacon to become a partner in his Philadelphia Studio. The partnership lasted five years until Trask was bought out by C.M. Gilbert in 1875. By 1878, the Gilbert & Bacon partnership was sufficiently well established for both persons to be admitted to membership in the Philadelphia Photographic Society. They operated their studio at 830 Arch St.

When Gilbert retired in 1886, Bacon opened a second gallery at 1030 Chestnut St. and presided over the studio for fourteen years. In 1883 Bacon lured photographer Milton R. Hemperly from Providence, Rhode Island, where he ran a studio with brother-in-law John Kendricks. For a decade Hemperly oversaw sittings at the Arch St. studio as chief operator, while Bacon presided over the studio at Chestnut St. Hemperly, who excelled in outdoor and location shooting, invented a flash light magazine lamp in the 1890s, and became a pioneer of home photography in Philadelphia. He would eventually purchase the Arch Street location and set up as an independent operator in the mid-1890s.

W. Frank Bacon contracted Bright’s Disease in the 1890s and gradually turned the conduct of the studio over to his son, Frank T. Bacon. The photographer died in September 1900. Frank T. Bacon maintaining the Gilbert & Bacon brand with the assistance of McIntyre. They remained a vital force in performing arts photography until 1920.

NOTES: "Photographer Bacon Dead," Philadelphia Inquirer 143, 77 (Sep 15, 1900), 15. "William F. Bacon," St. Louis & Canadian Photographer 24, 1900, 532. David S. Shields/ALS

Specialty: 

Frank Bacon considered himself a celebrity photographer, rather than a specialist in theatrical portraiture. Anyone with a public following—baseball player, politician, author, society beauty, opera diva, military figure, physician—might appear in cabinet format in the studio display cases. Nonetheless, Bacon had a peculiar talent for getting splendid images from theatrical personalities, a talent observed by Sadakichi Hartmann, the bohemian and photographic critic, who served as a retoucher in the studio in the late 1880s, who commented on his mentor’s skills in one of his prose portraits of American photographers.