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Guide to the Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection
1882-1980
 PR 8

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jenny Gotwals, 2003; database migrated to Archivist Toolkit by Jennifer Gargiulo, 2016

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 09, 2019
Finding aid written in English.

Biographical Note

Robert Louis Bracklow was born in Germany on December 3, 1849. He arrived in New York City at age 4 with his parents, Eliza and Theodore. By 1865 Theodore had died, and Robert continued to live with his mother at several different addresses in Hell's Kitchen, settling in 1884 at 457 W. 44th Street, where he lived until his death. From his early 20s, Bracklow worked as a clerk in the printing and stationery store of R. G. Hutchinson at 84 William Street, a business that catered to the legal profession. By 1901, Bracklow had taken over the business and moved it to 18 John Street. In 1907 the shop moved to 141 Fulton Street for a year, then back to 20 John Street. Bracklow moved the store again in 1909 to 85 Maiden Lane, and down the street to 101 Maiden Lane in 1916. He photographed his store in each of these locations. In addition to legal stationery, he was able to sell his early photographs out of his store. These were albumen prints pasted on mounts and inscribed on the verso "Glimpses Through the Camera. Robert L. Bracklow, New York."

Robert Bracklow began taking photographs in the 1880s. During that decade photography became a more accessible hobby with simplified equipment and procedures, and amateur photographers grew in numbers. The New York Society of Amateur Photographers was established in 1884; Bracklow joined shortly afterward. "Field excursions" provided members of the Society a chance to experience new photographic settings, as well as time to socialize. In addition, common darkroom materials allowed those who could otherwise not afford supplies or space a chance to practice photography. Bracklow's photographs were first seen at the Member's Exhibition in November 1889. He continued to exhibit with the Society each year, as well as in joint exhibitions with photographic clubs in Boston and Philadelphia. Bracklow showed 24 photos at the 1891 Exhibition of the Society of Amateur Photographers, held at the American Institute. In 1893, Bracklow received the Membership Exhibition Award from the New York Society of Amateur Photographers for The Surf at Marblehead. (Alfred Steiglitz took the second place prize.) In 1894 he was awarded the prize lens in a Bausch and Lomb contest. Bracklow served the Society in many capacities, as Director (1890, 1893, and 1895), Corresponding Secretary (1894), Librarian (1895), and Recording Secretary (1895 to 1896). He also helped organize many exhibits and served on the Society's Print Committee.

In May of 1896, the Society of Amateur Photographers merged with the New York Camera Club to become the Camera Club of New York, under the leadership of Alfred Stieglitz. Bracklow remained a dedicated member of the club; serving as Librarian in 1897 and as a Trustee in 1901. As Steiglitz promoted the artistic uses of photography over the documentary; more documentary minded photographers like Bracklow did not receive the promotion they deserved during his leadership of the Camera Club. For example, Bracklow was never published in Steiglitz's magazine, Camera Work. However, Bracklow continued to exhibit his photos at Camera Club shows and competitions until 1908. His photos were last shown during his lifetime at the Carnegie Institute in 1915. While Bracklow's straightforward techniques and quotidian subjects may not have been among the most celebrated at the Camera Club, his images hold our interest to this day.

Little is known of Bracklow's personality or interests. Edward Steichen, a Camera Club member, remembered that Bracklow was afraid of the dark, earning the nickname "Daylight Bob." He apparently invented a daylight developing tank to accommodate his fears.

Mary (Molly) Granger (1845--1940), a New York public school teacher, was Bracklow's romantic companion for most of his adult life, and accompanied him on many country outings, such as one to the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts in 1903. Granger lived with her cousin's family in Brooklyn. When Bracklow died on January 12, 1919, his possessions and photographs were left to Mary Granger.