Los Angeles: np, ca. 1930s. 25 Vintage black and white silver gelatin prints mounted to card. All photos are approximately 4 ¼ x 6 ½ in. Near fine. Item #6264
Collection of 25 of Will Connell’s cabinet card photographs of artists in the milieu that formed around legendary bookseller Jake Zeitlin’s shop, a principal nidus of west coast modernism.
Will Connell (1898-1961) was a self-taught photographer who opened a downtown Los Angeles studio in 1925, and soon began exhibiting his work in Pictorialist exhibitions. He worked as a photojournalist for Life, Time, and Vogue, and as a commercial photographer for a myriad of clients. Throughout the 1930s he produced publicity photographs for motion picture studios including MGM and Republic, while working as a teacher and technician at the Art Center College of Design. Connell also produced three photography books throughout his long career.
Connell was a key member of the scene of prominent bohemian Angelinos who gathered at Jake Zeitlin’s bookshop, along with Merle Armitage, Paul Jordan-Smith, Carey McWilliams, and Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright’s son), among others. This collection of photographs documents the photographer and friends posing and drinking. They are waggish portraits with a mischievous edge, revealing Connell’s playful surrealist-inspired sensibility, and the required technical skills needed to realize it. In many of these photographs, Connell posed his subjects seated in a chair with a crude metal rod protruding from the seat’s headrest, presumably a contemporaneous surgical tool.
Appearing in this collection are Jake Zeitlin, Jose Clemente Orozco, Merle Armitage, Lewis Mumford, and, possibly, a young Walt Disney. The general lack of images or documentation of these figures, especially those in their younger years, adds to the importance of this collection.
In a brief biography of Zeitlin in the Echo Park Historical Society, he directly addresses Connell’s portraits: “Will Connell was very much a friend of the important writers and artists in Los Angeles including Merle Armitage, Bill Conselman, Lloyd Wright and Lawrence Tibbett. Whenever somebody interesting would come into town, we’d rope them in. We had Louis Untermeyer one evening, and Lewis Mumford. The routine was usually they would come into the shop, then I would take them over to Will Connell, and Will would pose them and shoot these old-fashioned, cabinet-type photographs of them. Then we would all go to dinner to a French restaurant on West Sixth Street, Rene and Jean... and we would then gather at my shop and talk and make a lot of noise and argue and generally have a hell of a good time.”
Most prints are affixed to plain cardstock with two prints bearing the logo of his studio and a border around the image in classic ‘cabinet card’ style – reading “Connell, 427 So. Rampart Los Angeles – SWELL PHOTOGRAPHER.” The format, a parody of the 19th century cabinet card style of portraiture, extends the winking qualities of the images to the prints themselves. As a collection, the photographs reveal a working artist at play with his 1930s Los Angeles circle, personally and informally documenting West Coast modernism as it developed, and indexing both technical prowess and the prevailing bohemian sensibility of the period.