Born in Vermont in 1857, Elmer Chickering developed an interest in art at an early age. His artistic inclinations quickly expanded to include photography. During the 1880s, he moved to Boston, where he promptly opened a photographic studio that displayed his talents in several types of media, including oils, pastels, and India ink. Soon, the most prominent Boston families became cherished patrons. Mr. Chickering was gifted, personable, and extremely successful, attributes that assured his entrance into the very exclusive Boston society. His lucrative business received a brief mention in an 1893 issue of The Photographic Journal of America:
"Mr. Elmer Chickering, Boston Mass., was never so well prepared to carry on an extensive photographic business as at present. He had added another large and well-fitted operating-room, besides new and attractive reception-rooms, for both ladies and gentlemen. Notwithstanding the fact that now is a dull season, he is doing a very active business. He employs Mr. R. M. Wilson as his chief poser."
During the late nineteenth century, Mr. Chickering achieved name recognition that extended beyond New England when his photographs began appearing in such popular publications as Good Housekeeping. His personal life also generated some attention when he married Mr. Wilson’s wife (it is unknown whether she was a widow or divorcee), who was herself a photographer.
In 1895, the A. M. Palmer theatrical company's production of Trilby was playing to enthusiastic audiences. Mr. Chickering's photographs of the play were in great demand by several publications. However, trouble soon ensued when Harper & Brothers declared that these photographs represented copyright infringement. Not surprisingly, Mr. Chickering vehemently disagreed, arguing that his photographs were not copies of author George Du Maurier's drawings as alleged, but were of stage scenes that were not copyright-protected. Despite Harper & Brothers' threatened legal action, 160 of Mr. Chickering's photographs were published nevertheless. The resulting publicity for the play, the photographer, and Harper & Brothers proved mutually beneficial, and therefore any talk of litigation soon ceased.
By the twentieth century, Elmer Chickering had become one of America's leading photographers, having photographed such illustrious individuals as Presidents William McKinley and William Howard Taft, Hawaii's Princess Kaiulani, and the Boston Beaneaters baseball team (later known as the Boston Braves). On January 12, 1903, a fire in the West Street building that housed Mr. Chickering's studio resulted in $75,000 in losses and the destruction of several thousand negatives. Undeterred, he remained in business, which was renamed "Elmer Chickering Co." In 1915, Elmer Chickering died, and George H. Hastings and Orrin Champlain purchased the studio shortly thereafter, which remained profitable on the strength of the late photographer's professional reputation for several more years.
1903 Boston Evening Transcript (Boston: The Boston Transcript Company), p. 2.
2011 The Genius of Democracy: Fictions of Gender and Citizenship in the United States, 1860-1945 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), pp. 125-126.
1889 Illustrated Boston, the Metropolis of New England (New York: American Publishing and Engraving Co.), p. 150.
2012 National Portrait Gallery (URL: http://npgportraits.si.edu/eMuseumNPG/code/emuseum.asp?rawsearch=ObjectID/,/is/,/17383/,/false/,/false&newprofile=CAP&newstyle=single).
1919 Photo-Era Magazine, Vol. XLII (Boston, MA: Wilfred A. French), p. 106.
1893 The Photographic Journal of America, Vol. XXX (New York: Edward L. Wilson), p. 187.
1911, wikipedia photo "Booth of E. Chickering Co.", New England Industrial & Educational exposition, Mechanics Hall, Boston
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