Frank A. Gilmore's personal and early professional life was as mysterious as the illusive photography method he perfected. Virtually nothing is known about his life, family, education, or career until 1894, when he was a portrait photographer with a studio in Auburn, Rhode Island. This was at the height of a craze that became popularly known as "trick photography." Dating back to the late 1880s, trick or illusive photography was a type of photographic manipulation initially achieved with black, darkened, or blurred backgrounds. This gradually evolved into utilizing specially tailored cameras and equipment to reproduce sensationalist images that ranged from doppelgangers to decapitated heads. Mr. Gilmore finally found the medium that would, at least for a short time, distinguish him from his contemporaries.
A master showman, he delighted in dazzling customers with this photographic reproduction technique that appeared to illustrate a man fighting with himself, both giving the punches as well as receiving the blows. He also proved himself more than willing to show the various other types of trick photography he developed. In one demonstration, Mr. Gilmore attached a black-lined cigar box cut to fit the front of his 'duplex' camera of choice, a 4 x 5" Kodak. The two flaps on the box serve as "doors," with the first one opened to take a picture of the man throwing the punch for one side of the plate, and then closed while the second door was opened to capture another picture of the same man from the opposite end receiving the punch on the second half of the plate. The technique, though relatively simple for even an untrained amateur to duplicate, never ceased to amaze Mr. Gilmore's clientele.
His most popular trick, that of depicting a woman's seemingly severed head on a dinner platter was accomplished with a dining-room table, where one of the extension leaves has been removed. Next, a tablecloth is then arranged to conceal the gap between the table's two sections. A platter is cut to the dimensions of the subject's neck. She crouches between the table's two sections, the cut platter is fitted around her, and the picture is made. Despite the rather simplistic technique that was regarded by artisan photographers as vulgar sensationalism, patrons could not get enough of Mr. Gilmore's 'magical' images. However, within a decade, the public fascination with trick photography had worn off, and Frank A. Gilmore faded into oblivion.
1894 The American Amateur Photographer, Vol. VI (New York: The Outing Company, Limited), pp. 118-120.
2016 Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media by Noam M. Elcott (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 111.
1901 Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions, Including Trick Photography edited by Albert Allis Hopkins (New York: Munn & Co.), pp. 445-446.
1894 The Photographic Times, Vol. XXIV (New York: The Photographic Times Publishing Association), p. 171.
1894 Scientific American, Vol. LXXI (New York: Munn & Co.), pp. 137, 187.
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