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  Genelli Photographic Studio

The mastermind behind Genelli portraiture was Melzar Whittlesey "M.W." Starks. Born in Bradford Township/Lee County, Illinois on December 16, 1851, he was the on of Charles and Rachel (Hulbert) Starks. By the age of 21, he became a photographer apprentice in St. Louis, Missouri, and shortly thereafter opened a gallery in collaboration with the Hulbert Brothers (apparently relatives on his mother's side), known as Genelli. Located on 923 Olive Street, Genelli quickly distinguished itself as the finest portrait studio in Missouri.

In 1883, Mr. Starks moved to Sioux City, Iowa, and opened a Genelli gallery at 607 Fourth Street. Meanwhile, the Hulbert Brothers remained in St. Louis, focusing primarily upon retouching negatives and finishing prints until that business was dissolved in 1898. One year after his relocation, Mr. Starks married Harriett Isabella "Hattie" Harvey, and three years later they had their only child, son Henry Harvey.

Mr. Starks mentored several young photographers, and was recognized throughout the Midwest for his vast knowledge of portraiture. Mr. Starks expressed his professional philosophy in articles he contributed to Photographic Mosaics in 1895 and 1897. For example, he fervently believed that sittings were unique in and of themselves and that arbitrary rules of photography did not dictate them. He maintained that the photographer flourished best in a calm atmosphere, and should make the sitter feel as comfortable as possible. Furthermore, he contended that the operator's humor and an upbeat personality were as important in producing quality portraits as technique and materials. Mr. Starks observed that because a skilled photographer receives inspiration from his subject, he must be "led by circumstances" to achieve the desired image effects and lighting. Well-respected within the Midwestern photographic community, he served for several years as president of the Photographic Association of Iowa.

By 1910, Mr. Starks was retired from the photographic profession and moved with his family to small town Peshastin, Washington, where he apparently became a gentleman farmer and associated with the Peshastin Fruit Growers Association and served as chairman of the Southern Hardwood Emergency Bureau. M.W. Starks died in Peshastin on March 30, 1934 at the age of 82. Although there is currently a Genelli Studio still doing business in Sioux City (moved to 2430 W. Solway St. in 1980), specializing in portraits, weddings, and commercial photography, it is no longer affiliated with the Starks family. It is owned and operated by Robert Ownby, and remains a lasting tribute to its founder as an award-winning and commercially successful portrait gallery.

1891 History of the Counties of Woodbury and Plymouth, Iowa (Chicago: A. Warner & Co.), p. 855.

1886 The Philadelphia Photographer, No. 277 (New York: Edward L. Wilson), p. XI.

1895 Photographic Mosaics edited by Edward Livingston Wilson, Mathew Carey Lea (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 249-251.

1897 Photographic Mosaics edited by Edward Livingston Wilson, Mathew Carey Lea (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 175-180.

2012 Pretty in Plaid in Sioux City, Iowa (URL:

2016 Unknown St. Louis Photos (URL:

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2017-11-26 20:46:24

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