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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Sigismund Blumann

Dates:  1872, September - 1956, 8 July
Born:  US, NY, New York City
Died:  US, CA, Oakland

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Sigismund Blumann
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Sigismund Blumann was a prominent tastemaker in California photography during the 1920s and 1930s. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area for his entire career, he edited two photographic magazines and wrote five technical books. During the 1920s, he also made accomplished pictorial photographs of his own, concentrating on landscapes. Blumann was born in New York City in September 1872 and moved with his family to San Francisco about nine years later. He studied piano and in 1890 began a thirty year career teaching and performing music. Blumann became interested in photography about the same time and photographed the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. About a year later, he moved to Oakland and began a part-time home portrait business with a fellow musician. In 1911, he penned an article about photography, the first of over fifty on the subject over the next thirteen years, when he continued to make his primary income in music.
In August 1924, Blumann was appointed editor of San Francisco’s Camera Craft (begun in 1900) and, at fifty-two years of age, began working in photography full time. He continued most of its regular columns, covering professional photographers, camera clubs, technique, and amateur troubles. Blumann was the magazine’s most prolific author during his nine-year tenure, writing nearly 130 signed articles and, presumably, most of the unsigned ones. The magazine included his monthly editorials, reviews of books and exhibitions, and feature articles on the laws of art, different processes, the difficulty of nude subjects, and pictorialists such as Léonard Misonne and William Mortensen. Blumann paid attention to professional photographers by running profiles on them, covering activities of their national and regional organizations, and addressing specific topics like advertising photography. And he consistently maintained a populist and positive attitude, running monthly competitions and including many of his own poems.
Blumann edited his last issue of Camera Craft in August 1933, but within a few months had started up his own periodical, Photo-Art Monthly. With the help of only one assistant, he ran this magazine for the next seven years, carrying a very heavy load of writing and editing. The most notable changes were more attention to "artistic" photography (as suggested by the title), less coverage of professional photography, and increased anti-modernist attitudes. In 1937, Blumann opened a gallery in the magazine’s offices, providing an exhibition venue unique in the country, where both group and one-person shows of about one hundred photographs were presented. Somehow Blumann found the time while he was an editor to write five manuals on photographic technique. Camera Craft published the first one in 1927—his Photographic Workroom Handbook, that went into four editions and sold over 60,000 copies. In the 1930s, he self-published a reworking of this title plus books on enlarging, toning, and photographic greeting cards.
Claiming that his calling was as a critic, Blumann downplayed his own ability as a photographer, yet he achieved modest success as a pictorialist. He enjoyed being outdoors with his camera and turned it primarily on the natural environs of Oakland and California’s state parks and national forests. Reproductions of his work appeared in Camera Craft (both before and during his editorship), Photo-Art Monthly, and the American Annual of Photography 1927. Between 1923 and 1932, his pictures were accepted at photographic salons in Amsterdam, Toronto, Rochester, Seattle, and Los Angeles. In 1927, a one-person exhibition of his bromoil prints traveled to camera clubs in Chicago, Akron, Cincinnati, and New York. In addition to bromoil, a process that yields pointillistic images, Blumann utilized such unusual processes as kallitype (Vandyke brown), lithobrome, and pastelograph (the latter two probably his own inventions). In 1933, he was a charter member of the Photographic Society of America and received fellowship status from the Royal Photographic Society (FRPS).
Sigismund Blumann’s last known photographic appearance was in the December 1943 issue of Popular Science, for which he wrote an illustrated an article on toning black-and-white prints. On July 8, 1956, he died of heart failure in his Oakland home. 
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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