Fred Holland Day, the only child of Lewis and Anna Smith Day, was born on July 23, 1864 in South Dedham (now part of Norwood), Massachusetts. The senior Day was a successful merchant and instilled in his son civic and social responsibility at an early age. The young man's interests always centered on the humanities – art, literature, and photography. An early friendship with British photographer Frederick H. Evans resulted in his meeting several established photographers, who educated him on the basic fundamentals and popular techniques of the period. To reflect the artist status he was cultivating, he began using the name "F. Holland Day" professionally. After graduating from Chauncy Hall School, Mr. Day found employment with A. S. Barnes, Booksellers, where he met a group of literati who called themselves 'the Visionists,' whose ideas would shape his approach to photography.
In 1893, he opened the Copeland and Day publishing firm with partner Herbert Copeland. Their list of authors included Stephen Crane, William Butler Yeats, and Louise Imogen Guiney, among others. However, despite this impressive roster and the exquisitely designed texts they published, Copeland and Day never turned a profit during its six years of operation. Therefore, Mr. Day increasingly turned his attentions to photography as a vocation. In 1898, the photographer served as his own model when he made a series of 250 images depicting the Passion of Christ, in which he altered his appearance to reflect the suffering of Jesus Christ. His perfectionism is evident in the smallest details, such as the crown of actual thorns he used and the cross constructed of cedar imported from Lebanon. He attached a mirror to the camera and used a long-shutter release cable to capture the desired facial countenances. When Copeland and Day closed in 1899, Mr. Day was already well-known in East Coast photographic circles, and soon clashed with Photo-Secession pioneer Alfred Stieglitz. With financial assistance from his benefactor, painter Sarah Choate Sears, he opened a gallery at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Beginning in 1905, Mr. Day served as photography advisor to Virginia's Hampton Institute, an African American and Native American trade school. During this time, he produced his famous series of photographs with allegorical themes using African American art student J. Alexandre Skeete as a model, individually entitled "An Ethiopian," "Ebony and Ivory," "Menelek," "Nubia," and "Smoker." His photographs were among the first to aesthetically celebrate the African American body, with a deft balance of light and shadow to accentuate the model's skin tone.
Mr. Day was a tireless promoter of American photography, most notably through his "New School of American Photography" exhibitions throughout England and France. However, in 1904, shortly after opening his new gallery in Boston's Harcourt Building, a fire destroyed more than 2,000 negatives, along with his vast print collection. Undaunted, Mr. Day resumed his career with a decidedly more modernist approach. His later works display more whimsy and freedom than his previous, more austere and historically accurate portraits. A stroke in 1920 left Mr. Day bedridden, and he retired to his family's estate in Norwood until his death on November 12, 1933 at the age of 69. While Mr. Day remains largely forgotten by the general public, several famous photographers including Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe were clearly influenced by his Passion of Christ series. The estate of F. Holland Day bequeathed his collection of nearly 700 prints to the Library of Congress.
2017 An Ethiopian Chief (URL: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/267557).
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 389-393.
2017 F. Holland Day (URL: http://www.leegallery.com/f-holland-day/photography).
2017 Nubia (URL: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/nubia-391202).
2013 The Photographs of F. Holland Day: Developing a Materials-Based Catalogue Raisonné (URL: http://www.loc.gov/preservation/outreach/tops/lundgren/lundgren.html).
2007 Self-Portraits That Obscure the Self by Grace Glueck (URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/05/arts/design/05self.html?mcubz=3).
2008 Through an Uncommon Lens: The Life and Photography of F. Holland Day by Patricia J. Fanning (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press), pp. xviii-xxii, 11.
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