History of The PPA
instilled and nurtured an artistic sense of photography in his students. He felt that design was a strong
element of photography and always had another instructor on hand to teach principles of design. Among
noteworthy alumni of the school are Ira Martin, Margaret Watkins, Wynn Richards, Anton Bruehl, and
During White’s life, “pictorial photography” meant “art photography” or “artistic photography.” White felt that
pictorial photography was photography with “construction and expression.”
In January 1916, along with colleagues Karl Struss and Edward Dickinson, White founded The Pictorial
Photographers of America. It was to be a national organization promoting “pictorial photography,” i.e., use of
artistic expression to change the commercial, mechanized aspect of photography. There are multiple
accounts of its founding. Some say that the summer of 1916 is the correct date. D. J. Ruzicka, a member of
the first executive committee, claimed it was discussed in his home. The idea of this organization and its
purpose was discussed on many occasions. It held its first regular monthly meeting in February 1917.
Meetings were held in the Studio Building of the National Arts Club at 119 East 19th Street. The PPA was
introduced to the public in the 1917-1918 traveling exhibition.
In October 1916, PPA’s first exhibition was sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts at the
National Arts Club. The AIGA served as a model for PPA in its desire to change public taste in advancing the
art of photography. Both organizations held regular meetings and exhibitions at the National Arts Club.
Although PPA refrained from the exclusivity of the Photo-Secession, it did not enroll the nation’s local camera
clubs. It saw itself as the rightful heir of the Photo-Secession, but with a difference—it did not adopt Stieglitz's
political convictions but used pictorial photography as a medium for art education. The PPA’s first objective
was to have two exhibits which were circulated among sixteen art museums, libraries, and art associations
throughout the East and the Midwest.
In 1917 the PPA released its first annual report which replaced Photographic Art as the White group report.
In a period of five years Clarence White and his associates had developed an institutional identity.
White was president of PPA from 1917 to 1921. He stepped down from the presidency because he believed
that the organization would benefit by a change. During his lifetime the annual meeting of PPA was held with
the White School summer session in Connecticut.
In the early 1920s, White’s organization reached maturity. His school moved to still larger facilities at 460
West 144th Street, and the Art Center—which opened in October 1921 at 65-67 East 56th Street—became
home of the PPA. Both these organizations offered new photographers technical training, art education, and
career opportunities. PPA’s members were active in contributing fifty of the eighty-three exhibitors in the first
exhibition at the Art Center.
As the White School developed so did the Arts Center. The center became the home of several art
organizations including the PPA. The center advanced the industrial, craft, and graphic arts movement in
New York. The three most active member organizations were the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts),
the ADC (Art Directors Club), and the PPA.
White was president of the center until 1922 during which time PPA was very active, holding monthly one-
person exhibitions, lectures, and competitions. Starting in 1920 it published a number of annuals with essays
and high quality prints.
The PPA discontinued its traveling exhibitions, replacing them in 1923 with an ambitious biennial international
Clarence White died in July 1925 in Mexico City of a heart attack. The 1926 PPA annual was dedicated to his
Jane White, Clarence’s wife, became head of the school and enthusiastically assumed the role as director
even though she was not a teacher or a photographer. She would not sacrifice the standards set by her late
husband for the sake of saving money. Eventually the school offered new courses, including one in
After White’s death the Art Center remained open and PPA prospered. In addition to its monthly lectures, its
exhibitions and competitions, it sponsored its third international salon in 1929 and produced a fifth annual.
The high quality of the annual inspired Margaret Bourke-White, Nicholas Haz, Lewis Hine, and Karl Struss,
who had left PPA ten years earlier, to rejoin.
The Art Center fell victim to the Depression in 1933 and closed. The PPA waned and became more self-
absorbed and indistinguishable from the nation’s local camera clubs. In 1937, Clarence, Jr., took over as
director of the school, as his mother wished, when she retired and became director emeritus of the school. In
1940, Clarence moved the school to a large stately townhouse at 32 West 74th Street., where an ambitious
program of lectures by the likes of Edward Steichen, Gjon Mili, and Beaumont Newhall took place. The move
proved to be costly and with the start of World War II, the school went bankrupt and closed in 1942.
From 1937 to 1939, Thomas O. Sheckell served as the PPA’s president. He was more conservative than his
predecessor, Ira Martin, but was still interested in modern trends in photography. After 1940 the PPA
assumed the role of other camera clubs with no particular interest in the New York art wowrld or commercial
The influence of Clarence H. White was extended through his friends, students, and exhibitions held by the
Pictorial Photographers of America. There are many photographers influenced by his photographic
philosophy who have not been brought to the forefront. White had a strong impact in inspiring them all.
Stella Simon, a White alumnus and prominent photographer, said, “Anyone who came under his influence
never got over it.”
Ref.: Pictorialism into Modernism, The Clarence H. White School of Photography. Bonnie Yochelson and
Kathleen Erwin, New York, Rizzoli International Publications, 1996.
* * *
These links take you to a 4-part series of blog articles by John Bailey, ASC, published in December 2014 by
the American Society of Cinematographers:
Part One: Karl Struss, A Tripod in Two Worlds: Part One - New York
Part Two: Karl Struss, A Tripod in Two Worlds: Part Two - The Early Hollywood Years
Part Three: Karl Struss. A Tripod in Two Worlds: Part Three - Paramount to 3-D
Part Four: Karl Struss. A Tripod in Two Worlds: Part Four - Sunrise
|PICTORIAL PHOTOGRAPHERS OF AMERICA
FOUNDED IN 1916
The Pictorial Photographers of
America was founded in January 1916
by a group including Clarence White,
Karl Struss, and Edward Dickson. The
story of its early years and
development under the guiding
influence of Clarence White follows.
In 1906, a 35 year-old bookkeeper
from Newark, Ohio, whose hobby was
photography moved to New York City.
He wanted to be a part of the
photo-secessionist movement and
become involved with the more
prominent photographers such as
Alfred Stieglitz, who had begun the
Photo-Secession group in 1902. He
also felt that New York offered a
broader cultural environment in which
to develop his aesthetic photographic
philosophy. That man was Clarence H.
White. He located his family in
Morningside Heights, a neighborhood
that was becoming a cultural resource
with the presence of Columbia
University, Barnard College, City College, Union Theological Seminary, and the soon to be
completed Juilliard School of Music. He taught art photography at Columbia University from
1907–25, where Margaret Bourke-White was one of his students. In 1907 he established
his studio at 5 West 31st Street in the heart of the photographers’ district, and in 1908 he
began a teaching assignment at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science. In 1910 he
bought property on Georgetown Island, Maine, and opened a summer school named the
Seguinland School of Photography. The school was subsequently moved to East Canaan,
Connecticut, in 1916 and within another year it was relocated to Canaan.
In 1914 he opened the school in Manhattan and called it The Clarence H. White School of
Photography. It was initially located at 230 East 11th Street, but in 1917 was moved to
increased space at the Washington Irving House located at 12 East 17th Street. The
school, which was open from 1914 to 1942, was the only school in the United States solely
devoted to instruction in art photography. White was a devoted, sincere teacher who