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J. H. Kent

Rochester's most acclaimed nineteenth-century portrait photographer John Howe Kent was born to John and Lodoski Howe Kent on March 4, 1827 in Plattsburgh, New York. A gifted painter of landscapes, Mr. Kent moved to Brockport, New York to teach oil painting at the Brockport Normal School. He opened a small art gallery on State Street, before moving it to 55 Main Street in 1864. The following year, he married he married Julia Ainsworth, with whom he would have a daughter Ada, and moved his gallery to a location at the corner of Main and Erie Streets that was large enough to include a photography studio. The carte-de-visite photography craze was at its zenith, and Mr. Kent became an enthusiastic practitioner of the new art form. He then progressed to its larger cabinet card incarnation, and although he continued painting, he quickly learned that photography was the more lucrative of the two genres.

In 1868, Mr. Kent moved his young family to Rochester, which became his permanent location, and where he operated nine different studios until his death. His precision CDVs and cabinet card photographs earned him lavish praise - with one early biographer lauding Mr. Kent as "the leading photographic artist of the country" - and gained him access to some of the most important celebrity visitors to Rochester, most notably sufragette Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Mr. Kent tended to highly romanticize his subjects with a heavy emphasis upon "grace and elegance," and delighted in featuring props that characterized the Victorian Age. He manipulated lighting to his satisfaction using his own hand-held screen creation that led to the collapsible hand-held reflectors many photographers still use today. With this screen, Mr. Kent could completely open his skylights and sidelights and use the screen to control and soften the lighting of his subjects to achieve his desired effect. An unabashed promoter of his invention, Mr. Kent informed his colleagues, "My sittings are made anywhere under the light; the screens being so arranged that they can be opened or closed at any point by the operator while standing at the camera." He received awards, acclaim, and controversy at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia with his life-size contact prints he claimed were made from direct negatives. Photographic publisher Edward L. Wilson stated publicly he believed the photographs were enlargements, a charge Mr. Kent angrily refuted in an issue of The Philadelphia Photographer, stating, "Whether good or bad, the pictures are from 'direct negatives' printed in contact and there is no dodge or cheat about him," without offering any explanation as to how they were made.


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