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HomeContents > People > Photographers > P.H. Oelman

Other: Paul H. Oelman 
Dates:  1880, 7 July - 1957, 7 August
Born:  US, OH, Dayton
Died:  US, OH, Cincinnati

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for P.H. Oelman
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Oelman was widely known for his cheesecake-like nudes during the 1930s and 1940s. He resided in Cincinnati, where he taught and was active in camera clubs.
Paul H. Oelman was born on July 7, 1880, in Dayton, Ohio, where he grew up and eventually worked as a mechanic for the Wright Brothers. After learning how to fly from one of the Wright’s assistants, he moved to Denver, where he constructed and test-piloted planes. He returned to Ohio by the early 1930s and spent the rest of his life in Cincinnati.
Oelman seemingly first took photographs to make postcards of the Wright’s flights. He began exhibiting pictorial photographs in 1932, continuing to show in salons until about mid-century. The 1943-44 exhibition season was his most successful, with 118 prints accepted at more than thirty-five salons. In 1945, he presented an invitational one-person exhibition at Washington’s Smithsonian Institution.
Oelman shared his enthusiasm for pictorialism with others through his involvement in photographic organizations and his teaching. He was a lecturer for ten years, beginning in 1933, at the University of Cincinnati. He spoke frequently to camera clubs and in 1948 inaugurated a national lecture program for the Photographic Society of America (PSA); stopping in eight Midwestern and West Coast cities, he logged six thousand miles in fourteen days. In later years, when he was unable to travel, he tape recorded talks for distribution to clubs.
Oelman devotedly served the PSA, which he joined in 1941. He held numerous positions in it, including executive vice-president and chairman of the honors committee. In 1948, when the PSA’s national convention was held in Cincinnati, he chaired the committee that organized it. At this time, he also reviewed portfolios for PSA members, offering constructive advice to hundreds of aspiring pictorialists. The society honored him with both the Stuyvesant Peabody Award in 1949 and, later, its fellowship (FPSA).
Oelman photographed female nudes almost exclusively. Often presented in high-key values and against blank backgrounds, the images are escapist and stereotyped. He always worked in his unique downtown studio/residence, where the mothers of his young models supervised the sessions. In addition to making exhibition-size prints, he issued two portfolios of smaller prints in the 1940s. His lectures usually concerned the nude figure, and his articles on the subject appeared in thePSA Journal in March 1942 and December 1950 and the American Annual of Photography 1947.
Oelman’s eyesight began to deteriorate in the late 1940s. As a consequence, he made fewer photographs, but remained active in groups such as the PSA and his hometown Queen City Pictorialists. P. H. Oelman died on August 7, 1957, in Cincinnati. 
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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