This is a high spot of the year – a nice tradition I enjoy: Just before New Year’s John and Susan Edwards Harvith visit Eastman House to present gifts from their extraordinary collection of photographs and ephemera related to Karl Struss. Today we did the paperwork to receive to the museum’s collection four pictures Struss made as a still photographer on Hollywood movie sets early in the 20th century. Three of the pictures feature Gloria Swanson and the other is a set piece from Cecile B. De Mille’s “Male and Female” (1919). I’m a huge fan of Struss’ work. Is anyone else reading this a fan, too? I’m curious to learn what you enjoy about Struss’ career. Here’s link to a fabulous blog on Struss by the great cinematographer (and good friend of the Eastman House) John Bailey.
Here I am (center) with John and Susan Edwards Harvith.
The Harvith’s gifts this year are stills of Swanson and Elliott Dexter from De Mille’s “Something to Think About” (1920),Swanson laying on an elaborate daybed in De Mille’s “Male and Female,” Swanson on the set of De Mille’s “The Affair’s of Anatol” (1921), and the set piece from “Male and Female.” I wish I could post the images, but copyright restrictions prohibit that. Struss was associated with Alfred Stieglitz and Clarence White in New York City as part of the early century movement advocating the fine art of photography. After World War I, Struss relocated to Hollywood, working at first as a still photographer with De Mille and later as one of the great cinematographer in film history, his credits including many classic titles, notably such as his collaboration with Charles Rosher on the F.W. Murnau masterpiece, “Sunrise” (See John Bailey blog and his interpretation of the film on the DVD available commercially). Struss’ film career evolved over time into tricky and dazzling special effects and 3-D, but he
kept on working, well into the second part of the century. He died at 95 in 1981.
John and Susan Harvith have made huge contributions to the understanding of Struss’ accomplishments. John is the Senior Associate Vice Chancellor of University News and Magazines at the University of Pittsburgh. Susan is a professor of film history at Oasis, associated with SUNY in Syracuse. Together they interviewed Struss beginning in 1974 and organized in 1977, a touring exhibition of Struss’ forgotten still photography and films. Thanks to the Harvith’s and others through the years, Eastman House has a solid collection of Struss’ work as a fine art photographer, as a movie still photographer and as a cinematographer. The House archive of De Mille’s films and materials is a mighty resource for Struss work, and our technology collection has the lenses that Struss developed, together with the materials he used to market them. That is one of the pleasures of the Eastman House collection – that it is so often one stop shopping, so to speak, with its representation of careers that stretch through several disciplines – as with Struss, in photography, film, technology and manuscripts. I’m eager to hear your appreciation of Struss – either here, or when you come to The House for a visit.
Dr. Anthony Bannon is the Director of George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. He has held that position since 1996, previously serving as director of the Burchfield-Penney Arts Center, and director of Cultural Affairs on the campus of the State University of New York at Buffalo, both located in Buffalo, N.Y.