Louis Fleckenstein was born in Faribault, Minnesota on January 2, 1866. His interest in art was originally rooted in painting, but that quickly changed after his wife gave him a camera for his birthday in 1895. The following year, the businessman began studying pictorial photography in Montana with an artist friend who was no admirer of snapshot or handheld cameras. While the friend was carrying his 5 x 8 camera, Mr. Fleckenstein was following along with his sketch book. When the duo would find a particularly picturesque setting, they would make a visual record of it. After six months, Mr. Fleckenstein found a camera to his liking, and paid another friend $3 for his "ideal" 3-1/2 x 3-1/2 fixed focus camera. He then selected what he believed to be the proper processing, developing, toning, and printing chemicals for an amateur photographer. Soon, he had a small fortune invested in equipment, chemicals, plates, and paper. To recover his investment, Mr. Fleckenstein decided to enter his pictures in exhibitions and competitions. To his amazement, he took third prize for his first effort.
Encouraged by his showing, Mr. Fleckenstein invested in a larger 4 x 5 camera and entered one of the monthly amateur photography contests held by The Minneapolis Tribune. His business contemporaries believed this would be a good opportunity to receive constructive criticism from professional photographers, but warned his odds of winning a prize were slim. He learned a great deal not only about pictorial photography, but also about winning the first of several first prizes for his enlarged 8 x 10 photographs. With his winnings, he invested in a 5 x 7 camera outfit, and promptly joined The Worldwide Photo Exchange to continue his photographic education. He expanded his knowledge about plates, developers, and paper. He concluded that Rodinal was his developer of choice and that the Kallitype chemical process was most suitable for paper. According to Mr. Fleckenstein, Rodinal was easy to mix and provided the softness to a pictorial negative he was seeking. He applied the Kallitype method by coating Weston’s Linen Ledger or Record paper with a light sensitizing solution comprised of ferric oxalate, silver nitrate, and potassium bichromate, which was then hung to dry in his darkroom. It must then be properly cleared or the print will have a tendency to fade.
After relocating to Los Angeles, Mr. Fleckenstein turned his camera hobby into a full-time vocation in 1907, opening a studio in the Blanchard Art Building. He also became one of the founders of the Salon Club of America, and served as its director until the fall of 1907. With other California-based pictorialists like Edward Weston, Mr. Fleckenstein formed the Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles and also served as its director. One of his most celebrated pictorial collections was entitled, "Photographs of California Missions," which impressively featured all 21 missions. In later years, he settled in Long Beach, where he served as its first art commissioner for several years while continuing to publish and exhibit his photographs. Louis Fleckenstein died in Long Beach on April 9, 1943 at the age of 77.
2012 The J. Paul Getty Museum (URL: http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=1453).
1909 Photo-Era Magazine, Vol. XXI (Boston: Wilfred A. French), pp. 58-59.
1921 Photo-Era Magazine, Vol. XLVII (Wolfeboro, NH: A. H. Beardsley), p. 107.
1903 Western Camera Notes (Minneapolis: Western Camera Publishing Co., Inc.), pp. 8, 11, 32-34.
Copyright © 2002 - 2019 Historic Camera