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HomeContents > People > Photographers > John M. Whitehead

Dates:  ? - 1949, 12 March
Died:  Scotland, Alva

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for John M. Whitehead
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

John M. Whitehead, of Fernlea, Alva, was Scotlandís most noted pictorialist. His work was widely reproduced and exhibited, both in Europe and abroad for forty years, from around the turn of the twentieth century until the late 1930s. He consistently made landscapes, sometimes with quant structures and always under the expressive skies of dawn or dusk. These dark images were invariably composite prints, crafted from multiple negatives.
Whitehead began exhibiting by 1890, when some of his pictures were included in the International Exhibition of Photography, sponsored by the Edinburgh Photographic Society and hung at the Royal Scottish Academy National Galleries. Londonís Royal Photographic Society accepted his work for its annual exhibition every year between 1899 and 1911. Until 1939, his photographs were included in shows in Amsterdam, Bombay, Glasgow, Leeds, Tokyo, Toronto, and Turin. Among the American salons that accepted his work were those in Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, and San Francisco.
The photographic press enthusiastically promoted Whitehead, regularly featuring his images. Englandís Photograms of the Year reproduced one of his pieces every year between 1898 and 1937, except for three times. The American Annual of Photography, likewise, also included his work almost yearly between 1903 and 1934. In 1936, near the end of his active years, the Royal Photographic Society honored him by choosing one of his images for their little book Masterpieces of Photography. Comprising only fifty-six images, this publication was not restricted to pictorialism, instead surveying most of the history of photography, beginning with Hill and Adamson.
Whitehead was the subject of one article in a series on the "Worldís Greatest Photographers" that appeared in the monthly American Photography. Writing in its December 1926 issue, John MacSymon declared that Whiteheadís work "is of world-wide fame. His sensibility and artistry reveal themselves in all his pictures. They are full of sentiment." MacSymon went on to analyze four specific pictures, three of which the museum owns prints of.
Over twenty years later, the same magazine ran a short obituary on Whitehead, who died in Alva, Scotland, apparently his lifelong home. It stated that he passed away in a nursing home on March 12, 1949, at age eighty-five. 
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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George T. Hughes
J.M. Whitehead 
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