F. Holland Day
Biography | Bibliography
Fred Holland Day (July 8, 1864 – November 12, 1933) was a noted photographer and publisher. At the turn of the century, his influence and reputation as a photographer rivaled that of Alfred Stieglitz, who later eclipsed him. The high point of Fred Holland Day’s photographic career was probably his organization of an exhibition of photographs at the Royal Photographic Society in 1900. It presented 375 photographs by 42 photographers, 103 of them by Fred Holland Day, and evoked both high praise and vitriolic scorn from critics.
Day belonged to the pictorialist movement which regarded photography as fine art. His photographs allude to classical antiquity in manner, composition and often in theme. He often made only a single print from a negative. He used only the platinum process, being unsatisfied with any other, and lost interest in photography when platinum became unobtainable following the Russian Revolution.
Day’s life and works have always been controversial. His photographic subjects were often nude male youths. Pam Roberts, in Fred Holland Day (Waanders Pub, 2001; catalog of a Day exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum) writes: “Day never married and his sexual orientation, whilst it is widely assumed that he was homosexual, because of his interests, his photographic subject matter, his general flamboyant demeanor, was, like much else about him, a very private matter.”
Fred Holland Day spent much time among poor immigrant children in Boston, tutoring them in reading and mentoring them. One in particular, the 13-year-old Lebanese immigrant Kahlil Gibran, went on to fame as the author of The Prophet.
Fred Holland Day co-founded and self-financed the publishing firm of Copeland and Day, which from 1893 through 1899 published about a hundred titles. The firm was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and William Morris’s Kelmscott Press. The firm was the American publisher of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley; The Yellow Book, also illustrated by Beardsley; and The Black Rider and Other Lines by Stephen Crane.
From 1896 through 1898 Day experimented with religious themes, using himself as a model for Jesus. Neighbors in Norwood, Massachusetts assisted him in an outdoor photographic reenactment of the Crucifixion. This culminated in his series of self-photographs, The Seven Words, depicting the seven last words of Christ.
Fred Holland Day became all but forgotten for a number of reasons. He was eclipsed by his rival, Alfred Stieglitz. The pictorial photographic style went out of fashion. Most of his prints and negatives were tragically lost in a 1904 fire. And Fred Holland Day himself lost interest in photography and withdrew from the photographic scene.
F. Holland Day’s house at 93 Day Street, Norwood, Massachusetts is now a museum, and the headquarters of the Norwood Historical Society.
Ellen Fritz Clattenburg, The Photographic Work of F. Holland Day, Wellesley, MA: The Wellesley College Museum, 1975.
James Crump, F. Holland Day: Suffering the Ideal, Twin Palms Publishers, 1995.
Verna Posever Curtis, Jane Van Nimmen, F. Holland Day: Selected Texts and Bibliography, Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1995.
Patricia J. Fanning, New Perspectives on F. Holland Day, Northampton: Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, 1998.
Kerry Junge, Erik Larson, David Perry, Jason Nusbaum, The Poetic Lens: The Art of F. Holland Day, Brockton, MA: Fuller Museum of Art, 1997.
Estelle Jussim, Slave to Beauty: The Eccentric Life and Controversial Career of F. Holland Day, Boston: David R. Godine, 1981.
Pam Roberts, F. Holland Day, Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum, 2000.
Patricia J. Fanning, Through an Uncommon Lens: The Life and Photography of F. Holland Day. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2008.