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 Adam Clark Vroman  (1856 - 1916)

About: Adam Clark Vroman
 

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Lived/Active: California/New Mexico/Illinois      Known for: expedition and documentary photography

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Adam Clark Vroman’s major contribution to photography was in his ability to utilize the wide range of dramatic tones available in platinum prints. With a straightforward style, and dramatic black and white printing of cloud and shadow, Vroman in the late 1890s, created the visual vocabulary used 30 years later in modernist sculptural landscapes of Edward Weston and Paul Strand.

Adam Clark Vroman, born in Illinois, in 1856, left home at the age of 16, and worked in various capacities for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad until 1893 when he moved permanently to Pasadena.

In 1892, Vroman began experimenting with 5 x 7” camera.  Shortly after he sold his rare book collection and with the proceeds opened a store selling books, stationary, cameras and photography supplies.  Pasadena at the time was a center for artists, writers and intellectuals, including Charles Lummis, Frederick Webb Hodge of the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE), and a number of photographers. Primary Among the interests of this Arroyo Culture were preserving Spanish and Native culture, arts, crafts and traditions in the Southwest, and promoting associated tourism.

By 1895 Vroman was an accomplished photographer, and with a group of other amateur photographers would travel on outings, experiment with different cameras, film, paper and photochemistry.  In this same year he traveled to the four corners area of the Southwest   on the first of eight photographic expeditions over the next 10 years.  He used multiple cameras with formats ranging from roll film up to 8.5 x 6.5.

Vroman did not sell or exhibit.  A successful businessman, (as of 2005, Vroman’s Bookstore is operating in Pasadena) he made and gave handmade platinum print souvenir presentation albums and groups of silver prints for use by traveling companions, Indian subjects of his photographs, writers, ethnologists and others with similar interests in the Southwest.  Vroman’s last tour of the Southwest was in 1904, and then his interests turned toward Japan and collecting Netsuke, much as he collected rare books and Indian arts and crafts.

Education and/or experience: Self-taught and member of amateur photographic group, whose members experimented with a variety of papers and processes.  Rare book collector, owner of major bookstore and photo supply shop in Pasadena.

Influences/Collaborations:  Influenced by Charles Lummis and other members of the “Arroyo Culture” active in the Pasadena area.  Major interests were the preservation of historic Spanish Missions in the Southwest and preservation and promotion of Native American culture and arts and crafts.  Also included artists, furniture makers, painters, and intellectuals. Well known in scientific and literary circles as well as among the ethnographic/documentary photographers, particularly Frederick Monsen, Frederick Maude, George Wharton James,

Professional/Noteworthy Accomplishments:  He participated in three scientific/ethnographic expeditions.  First in 1897, joining up with Frederick Webb Hodge of the BAE to document the first ascension by scientists to the top of Enchanted Mesa, near Acoma Pueblo.  In 1899, Hodge asked Vroman to be the official photographer of an expedition to scientifically document through photography the people and architecture of the Pueblo Indians.  In 1901 he was the official photographer in the Southwest outing of the Museum-Gates Expedition, led by Peter Goddard Gates.

Work: During his golden years from 1895-1904 Vroman made landscape/cloudscape views of the desert Southwest, architectural views of historic Spanish California and New Mexico Missions, archeological ruins in the four corners area, views of inhabited Native American villages and dwellings, and portraits of his traveling parties and of Southwestern Indians (Hopi, Navajo, Apache, Pueblo), ethnographic views of Indian ceremonies, notably the Hopi Snake and Antelope dances, and genre scenes of Indian activities.  He also made views in rural Illinois, Pennsylvania, the Library of  Congress, Yosemite and the environs of Pasadena during this time.  In the late 1900s he made dull photographs In Japan and the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Media:  Dry plate negatives and roll film. finest platinum prints made between 1895 and 1905. Platinum, mercury toned platinum, gold toned collodion matte and glossy prints, silver gelatin prints contact printed.  Made copy negatives for Hodge (now at the Autry National Center).

Source:
Adam Smith Gallery
http://www.andrewsmithgallery.com/exhibitions/western/vroman.html

Biography from J. Paul Getty Museum and Research Institute:
[He] used to set up his tripod in the midst of juniper and piñon stands, walk away a short distance to see if he could get a better shot of Acoma [New Mexico], for example, and then become lost. I was always having to find his tripod for him!

So wrote an acquaintance from the Bureau of American Ethnology, who met Vroman while both were working on a bureau expedition in New Mexico. Vroman began to photograph around 1892, the same year that he married and moved to Pasadena, California.

As an amateur photographer and bookseller, Vroman traveled to the Southwest, especially New Mexico, to photograph in the American Indian pueblos. He is best known for his portrait work there. Unlike many photographers at the time, he was considered to be extremely respectful of his subjects.

Among his photographic accomplishments, Vroman illustrated the 1913 edition of Helen Hunt Jackson's novel Ramona. The bookstore he founded, Vroman's Bookstore, still operates in Pasadena under his surname, though it is no longer in the Vroman family.


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