Biography | Bibliography
Karl Struss was an American photographer and a cinematographer of the 1900s through the 1950s. He was also one of the earliest pioneers of 3-D films. While he mostly worked on films, such as F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Limelight, he was also one of the cinematographers for the television series Broken Arrow and photographed 19 episodes of My Friend Flicka.
At the age of 17, Struss left his father’s bonnet-wire factory “in self-defense” to pursue his interest in photography. He studied with his mentor, Clarence White from 1908 to 1912 at Columbia University. His talent was soon discovered by Alfred Stieglitz who published eight photogravures by Struss in the April 1912 issue of Camera Work, and in that same year Struss became a member of Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession.
Struss was one of the first photographers to use modernist compositions in his pictorialist photographs. In 1914, Karl Struss was commissioned by the government of Bermuda to be the official photographer.
He continued to exhibit his art work and was represented by major galleries throughout the United States. He soon took over the studio space once occupied by White and set up a commercial business. Some of his images from this period appeared in Vogue and Vanity Fair. In 1916 he was a co-founder of Pictorial Photographers of America.
With the onset of WWI Struss joined the armed services and did work in infrared photography. After the war, he traveled to Hollywood to fulfill a new dream of becoming a cinematographer, and realized his dream in just eight months.
He worked from 1919 to 1922 for Cecil B. DeMille and then continued to flourish in films including “Ben Hur” and “Sunrise”, winning an Academy Award in 1928 for the former. Struss also had some credits as director of photography on “The Fly”, and “Taming of the Shrew”.
Although Struss’s career in film seems to surpass his still photography, he is still remembered today as a talented artist whose work can be found in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and IMP/GEH in NY and many others.
Lucinda Barnes, A Collective Vision: Clarence H. White and His Students: Margaret Bourke-White, Anton Bruehl, Laura Gilpin, Dorothea Lange, Paul Outerbridge, Ralph Steiner, Karl Struss, Doris Ulmann, Long Beach: University Art Museum, California State University, 1985.
Susan and John Harvith, Karl Struss: Man with a Camera, Bloomfield Hills Michigan: Cranbrook Art Museum, 1976.
Barbara McCandless, Bonnie Yochelson, Richard Koszarski, New York to Hollywood: The Photography of Karl Struss, Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.
Martha A. Sandweiss, Masterworks of American Photography, Oxmoor House, Inc., 1982.