Saturday, March 2, 2013

Charles DeForest Fredricks

Fredricks!  The mere writing of his name elicits the strongest feeling of bon joie within me!  He was as much an adventurer as he was an artist and, with the first anniversary of his passing near, I think of him and his travels often.  How I miss his letters and when fate would allow, our meetings and his colorful tales.

I first encountered Charles DeForest Fredricks in 1842 or thereabouts.  A young man of 20, the son of a German shop keeper, he was at that time employed in the banking business and by his account, withering on the vine by sheer boredom!  He had of course taken note of the emergence of the new method of portraiture and came to me seeking instruction.

Upon acquaintance, I found his nature to be so affable and direct that I took him on straight away in a part time capacity, finances being as tenuous as they were then.  The balance of his working day being secured at Anthony's establishment in the manufacture of casings for future daguerreotype portraits.

No sooner had our business alliance and friendship taken bond was he off on the first of his many travels!  Indeed, it could be said that Fredricks was, among many of his titles, the first daguerreian missionary!  On that day when many of us saw him off on board a ship bound for Venezuela, he brought with him a camera and equipment necessary to produce the first images ever to be made there and through-out Central and South America!

Year after year, I would receive intermittent but always intriguing letters from him.  Amazing tales of living among the aboriginals and long, arduous days and nights spent in the jungles of the Amazon.  Thievery and river pirates were as frequently reported as those of our own common criminal gangs of the five points and tenderloin districts.  On occasion, he would turn up in New York to recover his health from living in such unhygienic circumstances only to return there once more.

However, despite all adversity, his enterprise did find a way to flourish and before long he had established offices in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Havana, Cuba where his product was judged among the earliest and still to this day, the very best of it's class.

A letter from him arrived in 1852 or '53 announcing his return to New York and we were once again in a partnership!  This however turned out to be as temporary an arrangement as wanderlust got the better of my friend once again and he was off to Paris where he soon set up a studio.

August 1854 Humphrey's Journal of the Daguerreotype & Photographic Arts

While there, he became acquainted with Talbot's ongoing efforts towards advancing our profession and, in 1855, he returned to our partnership and brought with him the crowning achievement of his career, the carte des visite process.

It wasn't very long before these photographic cards were considered de rigueur among one and all.  Always considering the possibilities towards advancement, larger sized cards were brought to market, one of them being the cabinet card in fashion to this very day!

As it is with all well established friendships, the fact that our business partnership dissolved did little to diminish our mutual fondness for one another's company.  By the end of the 1850's, Fredricks' own galleries at 585 and 587 Broadway were among the most frequented and prosperous of any in New York!

His building was as grand as the man who operated it!  An immense edifice to the art!  In fact, that is what he called it - Fredricks' Photographic Temple of Art!  A sweeping, lantern-lit arch announced it as such on the very buildings' exterior!  And to top it all, an eagle sat perched atop a large camera, overseeing the throngs who passed through the threshold and the traffic below.

I have counted many successful men as my friends.  None closer to me than C.D. Fredricks.

Fredricks' Galleries at 585 & 587 Broadway