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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Burton D. Holley

Dates:  1900, 7 October - 1978, 3 January
Born:  US, OH, Toledo
Died:  US, MI, Holland

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Burton D. Holley
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Burton D. Holley was born in Toledo, Ohio, on October 7, 1900. In 1924, he obtained a degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University and the next year began working at the Commonwealth Edison Company in Chicago.
Holley became seriously interested in photography in the late 1930s and spent all his active years in the Chicago area, living in Downers Grove. During the 1940s, he was very involved with local camera clubs and the national Photographic Society of America (PSA). He was a member of the West Suburban Camera Club (La Grange, Illinois) and served as president for the club in Downers Grove. He also became the director and newsletter editor for the Chicago Area Camera Club Association. He judged the Chicago salon in 1945 and 1949 and was sought after by camera clubs as a lecturer and print critic.
After joining the PSA in 1940, Holley held many positions in the organization, such as chairman of the pictorial division and member of the board of directors. For thePSA Journal, he wrote on landscape composition for the April 1943 issue, and regularly contributed articles about the PSA’s traveling portfolios during the late 1940s. In 1955, the organization honored him with its service medal and, about the same time, gave him its highest membership designation of honorary fellow (Hon. FPSA). He also wrote articles for the monthly Camera, in 1946 and 1947.
Unusual for pictorialists of this generation, Holley learned the gum-bichromate process and met Alfred Stieglitz. Gum prints, popular with earlier pictorialists, were developed by hand with a brush, allowing great manipulation of the image. The Detroit Institute of Arts owns a 1951 gum print by Holley. His visit with Stieglitz is known from a letter (dated December 11, 1948) that Holley sent to Ansel Adams, about an article Adams contributed to thePSA Journal, in which he mentioned Stieglitz. Holley wrote, "Your references to Alfred Stieglitz recalled vividly my visit with him at his ‘An American Place’ on Madison Avenue in New York City, when he took time out from his work to show me (a total stranger but one with an interest) all of his photographs that he had available. I have never spent a more interesting and significant afternoon." This encounter must have taken place a few years earlier, as Stieglitz died in 1946, and it was probably one of the few times a post-World War I pictorialist had the nerve to look up the fountainhead of American pictorialism, decades after he had forsaken the genre.
Holley’s own work comprised primarily landscape pictures, like the one owned by the institute. His Enchanted Forest is a particularly large print, nearing filling the standard 16-x-20-inch mount, and an uncharacteristically dark image for a pictorialist. Despite its light-hearted title, the image is rather ominous, with an array of leafless trees, and tones that are partially reversed, as a result of him using infrared film. Prints of this image were seen in at least two Chicago salons during the 1940s.
Holley sent his work to American photographic salons from about 1939 through the late 1940s. Among the cities, in addition to Chicago, where he was a successful exhibitor were Minneapolis, Memphis, Cincinnati, and Rochester. Around 1961, Holley moved to Saugatuck, a small town in southwestern Michigan, where he became an environmentalist. He died of lung cancer on January 3, 1978, in a nursing home in nearby Holland. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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