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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Karl F. Kunkel

Dates:  1900, 5 October - 1995, 20 February
Born:  US, NY, Buffalo
Died:  US, NY, New York City

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Karl F. Kunkel
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Coming to photography around 1940, Kunkel got serious about it roughly five years later and remained active until the late 1950s. He was born in Buffalo on October 5, 1900, and died on February 20, 1995, probably in New York.
Karl F. Kunkel worked at the New York Central Railroad, which had its own camera club that he joined in about 1946. The next year, he became an associate member of the nationally prominent Pictorial Photographers of America (PPA), which was based in New York. Kunkel served on the PPA’s salon committee a number of times in the late 1940s and early 1950s and in 1956 was both its print director and a member of its executive committee. At this time, he exchanged holiday photographic cards with D. J. Ruzicka, one of the PPA’s guiding lights.
Using a Rolleiflex, Kunkel made sharply focused urban images that were exhibited at pictorial venues. The salons in Detroit (1947) and Memphis (1948) accepted his work as did the PPA, frequently between 1947 and 1956. In fact, the cover of the PPA’s 1956 salon catalog features one of his images, showing a mother and daughter looking at the Manhattan skyline, across either the Hudson or East River.
Kunkel’s picture Arterio-Sclerosis is one of a series he made on the increasing traffic congestion on New York streets during the 1940s. Most of them show cars stopped on various arteries, creating pleasing patterns but also the somewhat aerie impression of abandoned autos (like a scene from an alien invasion film). Reproductions of them appeared in Camera (September 1949), Good Photography (December 1950), and the book How to Take Better Photographs (published by Popular Mechanics in 1954). According to Kunkel, prints of the image the museum owns were included in four salons and once won the print-of-the-year award at his New York Central Railroad Camera Club.
In December 1958, the Photographic Journal, published by England’s Royal Photographic Society, presented an article on Kunkel in its "Member at Work" series. It featured six of his straightforward images of rock formations, made on vacations he took in the American Southwest, and an explanation of his move away from pictorial photography. "These trips have provided a welcome, stimulating substitute for the jaded, stereotyped, repetitious, salon-type work I used to do," he wrote. "After years of exhibiting in international salons, I suddenly decided to make pictures just to suit myself, instead of those which I knew would please the judges." Indeed, by this time most serious amateurs were making machine-processed color slides instead of hand-crafted black-and-white prints, putting an end to pictorialism and salon exhibitions. Kunkel himself had made the shift and found appreciative audiences for his slide shows at local camera clubs. 
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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