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Studio, Moffett

Time Period: 
1905-present
Location: 
57 E. Congress St., Chicago
Biography: 

Chicago's premier venue for visually recording civic culture in the 1910s and 1920s, Moffett Studio began as a partnership between real estate developer Evan Albert Evans and camera artist George Moffett in 1905. Moffett proposed that Evans allow him to construct a studio on the top floor of Evans's property at 57 E. Congress Street, across from the Auditorium Building. Evans ran the business while Moffett manned the camera. The collaboration proved inspired.

Moffett was a versatile lensman, adept at architectural photography, pictorialist visions of nature, home photography, and celebrity portraiture. Evans proved a genius at managing and advertising. In 1907, Evans hit upon a new business model for running the studio. Until that juncture, "newspapers paid large prices for photographs of celebrities or big men of the hour; but Evans started in to furnish such pictures free of charge in order to bring the Moffett name before the public." The strategy paid off in 1912 when the Republican National Convention convened in Chicago and selected the famous Moffett Studio as its official photographer. It became nationally famous and highly remunerative. (Evans would later take over Chicago's Drake and Matzene studios.)

Moffett and his able camera colleague George O. Hinchliffe excelled at elegant portraits in fashionable settings: seated actresses as windows (gesturing at the "home photography" fashionable in Society portraiture), dancers on stone benches, standing vaudevillians amid statuary. Moffett's images were widely published in magazines and newspapers and hugely admired. Moffett Studio developed its interest in theatrical portraits in 1908.

In the latter 1910s, Moffett turned over the theatrical photography to camera artist Paul R. Stone who, though he was not granted credit on images, was allowed to voice expert opinions under his own name in the press. Stone handled the celebrity shoots until Evan Evans turned over direction of the studio to a management team appointed by Underwood and Underwood in mid-1920s. At that juncture he joined Raymor Studios in Chicago, a gallery that ran a diversified business in the city. Rebranded the Paul R. Stone-Raymor Studios they remained an active business from the 1920s through the 1940s. However, the arrest by the F.B.I. of studio employee Earnest D. Wallis for possession of photographs of classified plans for the A bomb in 1947 fatally damaged the studio's reputation.

In the 1940s, Underwood & Underwood sold Moffett Studio to the partnership of Robert T. McKearnan and Jack Russell. McKearnan took over complete control in the late 1950s. In the 1980s it was purchased by Arthur Cournoyer. At that time, the stock of negatives in possession of McKearnan was deposited in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society. The studio still existed in 2012. David S. Shields/ALS

Specialty: 

George Moffett and his colleague George O. Hinchliffe shared a penchant for shooting whole figure or half-length portraits done in relatively sharp focus, often in elaborate studio settings. When he produced head shots for theatrical publicity, they were often strong profiles. Images he produced personally were signed in bold red characters. Photographs were signed in the negative with a copyright symbol and "Moffett Studio' in sans serif uncials.