In this newest installment in the occasional series, Profiling Portraits, we take a look at the type of portraits taken when the subject wishes to avoid the camera! Few smiles appear, mostly scowls or attempts to hide. Just like in modern times, news photographers decades ago sought their subjects with dogged determination. The photos of them at work provide visual evidence of the efforts they made to get the shot.
It can be a challenge to find photos like this in our collections, and requires digging into a bag of keyword tricks. Searching by words that might appear in a caption of a photo where someone does not want their photo taken turned up some interesting results: dodging camera, hiding, covering as well as terms for who I hoped to see in the photographs: news photographers, newspaper photographers. And other photos came by good old-fashioned browsing of collections and serendipitous discovery, as always!
This first photo started the quest. Actress, chorus girl and model Evelyn Nesbit Thaw was one of the focal points of a major scandal and trial after her husband, Harry Thaw, shot and killed a prominent architect and former lover of Evelyn: Stanford White. The story leading up to that point was long and sordid, but it was the trial that brought out the photographers to hound Mrs. Thaw, seen below dodging the camera:
A man named Louise Krese tries to hide his face from the cameras in the photo below, though he may have had better reason than some. Krese testified at a murder trial, pointing the finger at New York gang leader “Gyp the Blood” and others for the crime. In the second photo below, Rose Harris, the woman who provided the alibi for another suspect in the same trial, has the benefit of a large hat to hide her face!
What about the photographers trying to get these shots? The press corps waited outside a side exit from the White House for a photo of camera-shy Charles Lindbergh in this shot from 1939, in which a photographer standing further back captures the flurry of activity. You can imagine the patient waiting by this group and then a mad scramble to get as many shots as possible. The photographers in the foreground are rushing to get their cameras ready for additional snaps:
News photographers were sometimes blocked in their attempts to invade the higher echelons of society and get photos to fill the society pages, as noted in the extended caption for the photo below: “This photograph shows a Newport policeman following newspaper photographers to prevent them making snapshots of society people at the casino. The police, acting under instructions, got in the way of the cameramen everytime they attempted to make a picture, and as a result, few snapshots were made.”
Another clutch of photographers wait for their chance to document the New York elite after a Vanderbilt wedding. It’s hard to know which society figures avoided these photographers and which made themselves visible because they enjoyed seeing their portraits in print!
And finally, lawyer Francis McAdoo almost seems to be having fun avoiding the cameraman, turning his coat into a cape to hide his face. McAdoo’s father was Senator and Secretary of the Treasury under Wilson, William G. McAdoo.
- Read past Picture This entries in the Profiling Portraits series, which includes entries on occupational, family and self-portraits.
- View images related to news photographers at work in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- The Bain News Service, based out of New York City, covered many court cases. See some of their photos related to trials.