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HomeContents > People > Photographers > William E. Macnaughton

Born: William Elbert Macnaughton 
Dates:  1872, 16 February - ?
Born:  US, NY, Brooklyn

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for William E. Macnaughton
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Born in Brooklyn, on February 16, 1872, William Elbert Macnaughtan (whose last name is often misspelled) was known exclusively for his pictorial landscapes. He loved nature and worked largely in rural New England, where he was drawn to the picturesque qualities of trees, rivers, and hills. He rendered these in classical pictorial compositions, often under twilight conditions. Using enlarged negatives from his 4-x-5-inch camera, he produced exquisite prints on hand-coated platinum paper. Fellow pictorialist Paul L. Anderson claimed that Macnaughtan was so particular that he produced fewer than thirty-five exhibition-quality prints in his entire lifetime.
Macnaughtan exhibited modestly for many years. His work was included in the First American Photographic Salon of 1904-05, which traveled around the country, and in many subsequent salons in this series. Between 1907 and 1926, his photographs were seen in Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Syracuse, Amsterdam, London, and Toronto. In 1924, he presented one-person exhibitions at both the Newark Camera Club and the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.
Older, traditional pictorialists most admired Macnaughtan’s work. Clarence H. White, for instance, included his pictures in two early post-Secession exhibitions of pictorial photographs, held at the Newark Public Library in 1911 and New York’s Montross Galleries in 1912. And Paul L. Anderson, who championed him and collected his work, featured pictures by Macnaughtan in two books he authored on pictorial photography. Anderson also wrote an article about him for the March 1915 issue of Photo Era. In 1923 and 1924, the American Annual of Photography reproduced images by Macnaughtan.
Macnaughtan participated in the Pictorial Photographers of America (PPA). In 1921, the group’s annual, Pictorial Photography in America, included an illustration by him and an article he wrote on manipulating negatives. The next year, the annual once again reproduced one of his images. In 1923, four of his platinum prints were accepted by the jury for the PPA’s first annual salon, seen at the Art Center in New York.
Macnaughtan was long associated with the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. He taught there and exhibited his work regularly during the 1910s and 1920s. He served in the department of photography on the executive committee, as treasurer, and as president for more than ten years before stepping down in 1925 (although he conducted classes for a few more years). It is not known if Macnaughtan made his living at this job or was otherwise employed.
Evidence of Macnaughtan faded from the photographic press after 1930. His last known appearance was in 1940, when four of his early platinum prints were included in a retrospective section of the fiftieth annual exhibition of the Brooklyn Institute. 
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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