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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Frederick R. Archer

Dates:  1889, 3 December - 1963, 27 April
Born:  US, GA, Atlanta
Died:  US, CA, Los Angeles
Active:  US
American photographer.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Frederick R. Archer
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Fred R. Archer was active in Southern California from the mid-1910s past mid-century. He was influential as the leader of the important Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles and as a teacher of professional photographers. His pictorial work included both traditional and modernist-inspired images.
Archer was born in Atlanta on December 3, 1889, but six months later his family moved to California. He father was a photographer and the proprietor of a photographic-equipment repair shop, where young Fred worked. He received additional training while serving as an aerial photographer in France during World War I.
Archer worked in Southern California’s growing film industry for fifteen years, beginning immediately after the war. For the first five years, he was employed by Universal Studios, where he pioneered the use of photographic backgrounds for titles. Subsequently, he worked on Cecil B. DeMille’s film King of Kings and at Warner Brothers, where he made celebrity portraits for three years.
In 1935, Archer left motion pictures to begin teaching. For several years, he was head of the photographic department at what is now the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In 1942, however, he established in Los Angeles the Fred Archer School of Photography, which trained portrait photographers; by the end of the decade the school had grown to a campus of seven buildings. In 1948, he authored his only book, Fred Archer on Portraiture, which he undoubtedly used as a text at the school.
In addition to his vocation, Archer was an avid pictorialist for many years. He began exhibiting in 1914, when one of his creative pieces was included in the prestigious London salon. He continued to send work regularly to salons into the mid-1940s. Archer also assumed a leadership role in the Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles, the most prominent camera club on the West Coast. In 1914, he was the youngest founding member of the group, and when it disbanded about thirty-five years later he was the only remaining original member. He was the group’s designated director for many years and a regular judge of its annual salons.
Archer seems to have produced primarily two bodies of creative work. One, containing abstract and design-oriented modernist images, is characterized by the use of mirrors, reflected light, and hard-edge subject matter. The second body of work is solidly pictorial, consisting mainly of figures set on either miniature or full-scale movie sets.
Archer remained active throughout the 1950s. He continued to judge photographic salons and received two of the Photographic Society of America’s highest awards—an honorary fellowship (Hon. FPSA) and the Stuyvesant Peabody Award. Fred R. Archer died on April 27, 1963, in Los Angeles. 
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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Further research

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If you have a portrait of this photographer or know of the whereabouts of one we would be most grateful.
Family history 
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Visual indexes

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Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Sobieszek, Robert A. and Deborah Irmas 1994 the camera i: Photographic Self-Portraits (Los Angeles: LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art) p.206, Plate 86 [When the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection was donated to LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992 the museum gained a remarkable collection of self portraits of notable photographers. If you need a portrait of Frederick R. Archer this is a useful starting point.] 
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