Daily Archives: November 11, 2014

Pirie MacDonald: Couldn’t Get Into the Mood for Women

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PirieMcDonald.pngPirie MacDonald may have been the most famous photographer Albany ever produced. He was born in Chicago in 1867, but his parents moved to Troy. In 1883 he apprenticed in Hudson with Frank Forshew for six years,  and then opened a studio in Albany in 1890.

This ad was in the 1894 guide to Albany schools. MacDonald became well-known during his years in Albany, exhibiting in New York City, Paris, and beyond, and eventually moved to New York, where his fame grew, and he photographed many of the leading men of the day, including Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, four governors, university presidents, automobile tycoons. He adopted the moniker “Pirie MacDonald, Photographer of Men,” and claimed to have photographed 70,000 of them through his career. On his 75th birthday, he said, “For the past 50 or 60 years I’ve been at this game, I haven’t taken one picture of a woman – not even of my wife or my daughter. Why? You just can’t make superlative pictures of men and then get yourself into the mood for women. You can’t do it, I say.”

His photographic collection is held by the New York Historical Society. In an odd feature of his will, all of his negatives were destroyed after his death. Fortunately, the prints that survived were largely contact prints, from large format negatives. The collection also contains a small amount of Albany-related material:

There is a small selection of letterhead, envelopes, stickers, seals and various forms used in the New York studio, as well as several pieces of original calligraphy and graphic designs for MacDonald’s Albany operation. The latter includes drawings by Albany artist Charles Selkirk (1855-1923) for corporate identifications; Selkirk created the Japonisme-inspired logogram used by MacDonald for stickers, and may have also designed his stylish and distinctive letterhead.

This story may explain how it was that Pirie MacDonald came to be a photographer of men.