Julius Caesar Strauss was born in Cleveland, Ohio in July 1857. At age 12, he began a three-year apprenticeship at local photographer J. W. Barge's tintype gallery. While still in his teens, Mr. Strauss and a cousin relocated to St. Louis where they found employment as broom salesmen for the Samuel Cupples Woodenware Company. Still interested in photography, Mr. Strauss became an assistant at a gallery on Fourth Street, which is where he learned the important tools of his trade. After brief stints in Chicago and his hometown of Cleveland, Mr. Strauss settled in St. Louis for good in 1876. He formed an unsuccessful photographic partnership with a Mr. Tobias, which cost him his life savings. Undaunted, Mr. Strauss opened a gallery at 1313 Franklin Avenue in 1879. Initially partnered with Mr. Edward Guerin, the first day's business was a mere 25 cents, which prompted Mr. Guerin to seek an early retirement. Mr. Strauss, however, continued on his own, finally achieving hard-fought commercial success. He was financially secure enough to marry Flora Isaacs, and they later became the parents of sons Louis Reuben, Charles, and Irving, and daughter Blanche. The children would later be frequent subjects for their father's portraits.
Mr. Strauss' dream of opening an opulent photographic studio that would also become a cherished St. Louis landmark was realized in March 1897 when dedication of the building at 3516 Franklin Avenue attracted local luminaries who marveled over its sixteenth-century French-style architecture, artistic interior design, and state of the art equipment. His innovations were worthy of praise on both sides of the Atlantic, as reflected in a lavish testimonial published in The Mirror, which stated in part, "Every photographer of note in the United States and Europe knows and likes Strauss and learns from him.” Like his contemporaries of the period, Mr. Strauss sought to emphasize the artistry of photography, and often applied classical painting and draughtsman techniques to his portraiture. He experimented frequently with lighting and background, and applied a liquid opaque process dubbed Strauss' marl to create shadows and imitate flash photography. However, his innovativeness did not extend to portrait sittings, and his preference for the rigid poses of the painting masters is readily apparent.
Sadly, on January 31, 1900, Mr. Strauss' studio was completely destroyed by fire with $250,000 in insured damages. Fortunately, his collection of negatives which numbered in the hundreds of thousands were stored in a fireproof vault. He started over yet again and reconstructed a studio known as the "Castle", which opened to fanfare reminiscent of its predecessor on March 4, 1901. Mr. Strauss became the unofficial voice and the face of St. Louis photography in the early twentieth century, and participated in several lectures, exhibitions, and professional associations. In 1912, he donated his collection of prominent citizens to the St. Louis Public Library. Julius Caesar Strauss died on August 9, 1924, leaving his studio in the capable hands of eldest son Louis. However, the studio was another business casualty of the Great Depression, and finally closed its doors in 1940, when Louis Strauss moved his family to Los Angeles.
2012 Julius Caesar Strauss: A Sun of St. Louis (URL: http://www.thomasyanul.com/strauss1index.html).
1894 The Photographic Journal of America, Vol. XXXI (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 9-12.
1909 Portrait, Vol. I (Binghamton, NY: Ansco Company), p. 12.
1897 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXXIV (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 353-360.
1900 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXXVII (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 127-129.
1901 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXXVIII (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 249-255.
Copyright © 2002 - 2019 Historic Camera