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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Edward P. McMurtry

Dates:  1883, 13 February - 1969, 5 September
Born:  US, PA, Allegheny
Died:  US, CA, Carmel

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Edward P. McMurtry
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

McMurtry was a leading California pictorialist during the 1930s, favoring coastal scenes and usually making small carbro prints. He was mechanically minded and an amateur inventor.
Edward Painter McMurtry was born on February 13, 1883, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard in 1909, and then worked for a short time in a Massachusetts textile mill. In about 1913, he moved for health reasons to California, where he spent the rest of his life. During World War I, he volunteered for the American Field Service, maintaining and driving ambulances in France; during World War II, he performed machine work for a defense contractor in San Francisco. Independently wealthy, he occupied himself with photography and mechanical inventions, securing several patents.
McMurtry’s mechanical interests led him to photography and he was using the camera creatively by the late 1920s. He began exhibiting in 1928, when Will Connell encouraged him to send work to the Los Angeles salon, which accepted all four of his prints. He continued to exhibit for about a decade, with the 1932-33 season being his most prolific—279 prints in more than forty-five international salons. His work was particularly successful in Europe; the back of one print lists nineteen exhibitions in the United Kingdom alone.
McMurtry’s favorite subjects were seaports, harbors, boats, and other sites and subjects of the waterfront. He photographed on the West Coast, where he lived, and in Maine, where he summered. On the Elbe, his widely exhibited signature piece, is an atmospheric image that contrasts a small tugboat in the foreground with larger vessels in the background in a tightly framed composition from a larger negative. It was reproduced in the 1938 book Ships and Water in gravure and in Camera Craft (December 1933) and Camera (April 1938). McMurtry printed this and most of his images in carbro, a process that rendered a standard bromide silver print more permanent by the use of carbon tissue.
McMurtry associated with other pictorialists and saw his work reproduced in the monthly magazines. He wrote a short lead article about himself for the October 1930 issue of Photo Era, and his pictures were subsequently seen in American Photography and the American Annual of Photography. In 1929, he was elected to membership in the exclusive Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles, and the Royal Photographic Society awarded him fellowship status (FRPS). In 1940, he spoke to the combined camera clubs of San Jose, and he reportedly continued to make pictures throughout the decade.
McMurtry moved to the Monterey Peninsula in 1945, after living many years in Pasadena. He died in Carmel, California, on September 5, 1969, after years of ill health. 
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. 
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