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George G. Rockwood

Acclaimed photographer George Gardner Rockwood was born to Elihu Robbins and Martha Gardner Rockwood in Troy, New York on April 12, 1832. Young George's early education was at the Ballston Spa Institute, an elite boys' boarding school. As a young adult, he worked in a printing office, and then became a reporter for the Troy local newspaper, the Daily Times. He later was named editor to the Troy Daily Post, and within twelve months quadrupled the newspaper's circulation. In 1853, Mr. Rockwood married Araminta Bouton, and the couple would have two children.

Two years after his marriage, Mr. Rockwood discovered another enduring passion - photography. After living in St. Louis, Missouri for three years, he moved his family to New York City, which is where he studied the art of photography and quickly became a respected expert in the field. Mr. Rockwood's genius was not in the mechanics of photography, but rather the creativity with which he applied them to portraits. He was also leading the way in photographic innovation, having made the first carte-de-visite in the United States during a sitting with Baron Nathan Rothschild. Mr. Rockwood was also a pioneer in photo-engraving, photo-sculpture, and instant photography. Not content to rest on his laurels, he also mastered the art of landscape photography, and his exhibits received coveted premiums from the American Institute.


Mr. Rockwood's studio, located on 845 Broadway, was one of the largest and most impressive in America at the time, occupying several buildings to accommodate his growing clientele. He also became a sought-after lecturer and authored several books on photography including "Brain Pictures" (1887) and "Child Beauty" (1890). Excelling at everything he did, Mr. Rockwood was also an astute businessman whose commitment to customer satisfaction economy was never at the sake of quality. As an example, when a colleague inquired as to whether or not he finished proofs first, he thoughtfully answered "yes" and explained his rationale. He learned that whenever he sent out unfinished proofs, more than 60 percent of the sitters would request another sitting despite the high quality of the proofs. However, when he would send a completely retouched proof of the best sitting along with other unfinished proofs accompanied by a card stating that they could look just as impressive, the subjects would seldom demand another sitting and would actually order some of the unfinished proofs.

Seventy-nine-year-old George G. Rockwood died on July 10, 1911 with his professional legacy secure. He photographed an astounding 325,000 people during his illustrious career, including such luminaries as Horace Greeley, General Winfield Scott, President Martin Van Buren, and Edgar Allan Poe. He once described the ideal photographer as "one who is most of a Chesterfield in his manner: a Bacon in his range of information: a Daniel Huntington in his art: a small edition of Shakespeare in his knowledge of human nature, blended with the genial humor of Charles Dickens." Mr. Rockwood not only wore these hats with artistic ease, he wore them well.



Ref:
1889 International Annual of Anthony's Photographic Bulletin, Vol. II (New York: E & H. T. Anthony & Co.), pp. 384-385.

1906 The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. XIII (New York: James T. White & Company), p. 208.

1912 Photo-Era Magazine, Vol. XXVII (Boston; Wilfred A. French), p. 155.

1872 Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated. A Repository of Science, Literature, and General Intelligence, Vol. LIV (New York: Samuel R. Wells), p. 257.


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