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Through an Uncommon Lens

The Life and Photography of F. Holland Day

Patricia J. Fanning

Publication Year: 2008

Based in the Boston area, F. Holland Day (1864–1933) was a central figure in artistic circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Publisher of Oscar Wilde and Stephen Crane, mentor to a young Kahlil Gibran, adviser and friend to photographers Alvin Langdon Coburn and Edward Steichen, Day lived a life devoted to art and beauty. At the turn of the twentieth century, his reputation rivaled that of Alfred Stieglitz. A pioneer in the field of pictorial photography, Day was also an influential book publisher in the Arts and Crafts tradition. He cofounded the publishing company of Copeland and Day, which issued more than a hundred titles between 1893 and 1899. In addition, he embraced a unique sense of social responsibility and a commitment to historic preservation. Colorful and sometimes eccentric, Day was best known for his stunningly original, brilliantly executed, and sometimes controversial photographic images of blacks, children, and allegorical subjects. His determination to promote photography as a fine art led him to create photographic representations of the crucifixion of Christ, studies for which he was his own model. Although he continued to mentor young artists until his death, ill health caused Day to spend the last fourteen years of his life inside his home in Norwood, Massachusetts. By the time he died in 1933, he was virtually unknown, but in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in his art. Responding to this renewed interest, Patricia Fanning has written an impressive biography—one that draws on previously unavailable archival material and is attuned to the historical and cultural contexts in which Day lived and worked. The book is illustrated with more than a hundred photographs, including 32 duotone illustrations of the artist's work.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

On a hot summer afternoon when I was eleven years old, my next-door neighbor and best friend, Nancy Worrell, and I were looking for something to do. Nancy’s mother suggested we visit the Day House, headquarters of the local historical society. She even made the telephone call to set up a tour...

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pp. xvii-xxiii

In an impassioned defense of photography as an art, F. Holland Day went on to describe the path photographers must take to transform a hobby into something more, and the passion, sensibility, and care that are essential components in the creation of any work of art. He further indicated the selfl ess devotion to art and...

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1. Roots and Wings

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pp. 1-16

On a warm, fair New England spring day in 1883, Lyman Smith was laid to rest.1 Fred Holland Day, the only child of Smith’s only daughter, was eighteen and poised on the verge of adulthood: one foot was firmly planted in the past, the small town of Norwood, Massachusetts, fifteen miles south of Boston, sheltered, pampered, and comfortable...

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2. A Circle of Friends

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pp. 17-40

In August 1889, while traveling in France, Fred Holland Day engaged in a long-distance discussion about “happiness” with Gertrude Savage, former Chauncy Hall classmate and daughter of Boston minister J. Minot Savage. In this correspondence Day expressed “a very distinct dislike for the word,” feeling, rather...

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3. 69 Cornhill

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pp. 41-60

Close by the rooms where the Visionists debated art, literature, and philosophy late into the night, the publishing firm of Copeland and Day took up occupancy on the upper floor at 69 Cornhill in a picturesque area of Boston described by Guiney as “a hive of bookstalls” and artist supply shops...

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4. A Studio of His Own

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pp. 61-86

In the late summer of 1886 Fred Day borrowed a camera from fellow “Chauncyite” Sam Bryant and spent his vacation taking pictures. As subsequent letters to Carrie Van Horn and Gertrude Savage indicated, he enjoyed the pastime immensely, acknowledging that he “had some pretty good success...

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5. “The Embodiment of a Prayer”

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pp. 87-110

When English photographer George Davison wrote to Alfred Stieglitz in June 1895 that he had “happened on one excellent artist out there. Mr. Day (a publisher) of Boston,” Day had been involved in serious photography for only a few years.1 As he began to see photography as a vehicle for his own artistic expression...

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6. “Behold, It Is I!”

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pp. 111-134

A few months prior to Day’s stunning debut at the 1895 London Salon, Rudolf Eickemeyer, the second American to be elected to the Linked Ring, wrote to Alfred Stieglitz that Day had seemingly “hewn his way through a virgin forest.” 1 Without engaging in competition or politics, unable to print from his...

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7. “To Start Anew ... ”

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pp. 135-160

The world had changed dramatically during the year and a half Fred Holland Day had been away from Boston. Oscar Wilde had died in November 1900, penniless and desolate in a Paris hotel just as Day was preparing his New School exhibition at the Photo-Club there. His death brought to a close...

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8. The Chalet

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pp. 161-186

In April 1910, within a month of his father’s death, Fred Day, aged fortyfive, documented the blast of rock that initiated the transformation of his Five Islands, Maine, coastal property. By the time it was completed some three years later, a pier, pergola, and chalet-styled house had emerged between a gentle rise...

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9. Solitude

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pp. 187-206

Although Fred Holland Day spent his last fourteen years in his Norwood home (figure 68), it was neither a sudden nor a complete withdrawal from the world. After the 1916 summer in Maine he remained close to Norwood and his “ageing and invalid mother,” tending to her needs as he had his...

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pp. 207-210

Although the obituary that ran in the local newspaper mentioned Day’s photographic career, his death caused no stir in broader artistic circles. As one scholar noted, “The modesty Day chose to live by had consequences.”1 He had been out of the limelight for close to thirty years, and artistic photography had...


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pp. 211-246


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pp. 247-255

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613760888
E-ISBN-10: 1613760884
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558496682
Print-ISBN-10: 1558496688

Page Count: 324
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Day, F. Holland (Fred Holland), 1864-1933.
  • Photographers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Photography, Artistic.
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