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  Rufus W. Holsinger, Photographer

Rufus Washington Holsinger, the oldest of Thomas Snyder and Elizabeth Snyder Holsinger’s four sons, was born on February 22, 1865. Although the exact location of his birthplace is unknown, it is believed the Mr. Holsinger moved from Pennsylvania to Charlottesville, Virginia, in the late 1880s to open a photography business. Specializing in wet-plate collodion photography, he opened his ‘University Studio’ at 719-721 West Main Street. He preferred the wet-plate method because he believed they produced the sharpest large (14 x 17) image negatives. He mastered the tedious process (the objects would appear in the lens upside down and have to be laterally reversed) and prints would be made on the finest albumen paper, purchased from E. & H. T. Anthony & Company.

Mr. Holsinger’s Charlottesville studio flourished, and unlike its higher-end contemporaries, he made portraits of townspeople of all socioeconomic classes. Perhaps because his loyal employee, Horace Porter, was African American, his clientele featured several families of color. After marrying Sallie (Sadie) Leland Anderson in January 1896, Mr. Holsinger concentrated on further building his professional reputation, serving both as President and treasurer of the Photographic Association of Virginia and the Carolinas as well as longstanding treasurer of the prestigious Photographers Association of America (later known as the Professional Photographers of America). So respected was Mr. Holsinger within the Charlottesville community, that in 1912 he was commissioned to create an historical record of the interior and grounds of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate (which was later featured on the $2 bill). His moderately priced gallery used the typical period cloth backdrops that extended from ceiling to floor. Adult sitters were posed either standing or sitting, often with thoughtful or pensive expressions that reflected the convention of the period. However, uncharacteristic was Mr. Holsinger’s portrayal of African American subjects, who were depicted with grace and respectability and not as comedic stereotypes. Unfortunately, a studio fire in 1910 destroyed several – but thankfully not all – of his negatives.

1915 turned out to be a pivotal year for Mr. Holsinger. While working as an instructor at the University of Virghina, he made a portrait of fledgling painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Sadly, that same year, during a postsurgery recuperation, Mr. Holsinger suffered lightheadedness, which resulted in a fall from his studio’s second-story window. Although his fall was broken by a telephone line, he fractured his skull, and was forced into retirement. Thereafter, his Main Street gallery would be operated by his son Ralph W. Holsinger. Sixty-six-year-old Rufus Washington Holsinger died on October 9, 1931, and his son continued operating the studio at its 908 West Main Street location until his retirement in 1969. The gallery was subsequently operated by various family members until its closure in 1977. The Holsinger Studio Collection of nearly 9,000 dry-plate glass negatives and 500 film negatives are currently part of the Special Collections of the University of Virginia Library. This collection can be accessed online via UVA’s digitized VIRGO catalog.

1912 Bulletin of Photography, Vol. X (Philadelphia, PA: Frank V. Chambers), p. 313.

2011 Charlottesville by Eryn S. Brennan and Margaret Maliszewski (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing), pp. 6, 32.

1921 Corks and Curls (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia), p. 423.

1976 Holsinger's Charlottesville, 1890-1925 (Lynchburg, VA: Progress Printing Co.), p. 28.

2019 Holsinger Photography (URL:

2019 The Holsinger Studio Collection (URL:

2014 Jefferson’s “Venetian” blinds: a Story of Investigation and Restoration by
Bob Self (URL:

1906 Official Industrial Guide and Shippers’ Directory (Cleveland, OH: Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company) p. 446.

1900 The Professional and Amateur Photographer, Vol. V (Buffalo, NY: Professional Photographer Publishing Co.), p. 348.

2018 The Virginia Years: The Untold Story of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Time at UVA (URL:

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