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From concrete architectural photography to the photographic art of the idea, the photographer Francis Joseph Bruguiere (1875-1945) was born in San Francisco, California into a well to do family, trained as an artist and gradually became interested in photography as a new medium.

Follow the link below for a fascinating insight about the Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego, California, it supplies a lot of architectural details about both the buildings and the architects who designed the Exposition.

Early careers of photographers are usually hard to document either due to the resources not being available to check the small details in a photographer’s life, or the books being no longer available.

This is actually the case for me here. Like most photographers of that late 19th C. and early 20th C., West Coast photographers were pictoralists trying to marry painting and photography. Bruguiere and his poet friend George Sterling worked on a book which aptly was called The Evanescent City that illustrated the buildings for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held from February through December in 1915 on a site that roughly corresponds today to the Marina District in San Francisco. This kind of book would fall into the early architectural category. The publishing date is given as 1916. Note, I have not seen a copy of this publication, so I cannot judge the actual type of photography done by the photographer. In 1918, another book was published by publisher H. S. Crocker titled San Francisco, illustrated with 26 photographic plates by Bruguiere. Note, I have not seen that book either.

What I do have in our own library is the following book, Impressions of the Art at the Panama-Pacific Exposition by Christian Brinton shown below.

bru-3 bru-4 No credit is given to the photographer in the book index, but a few plates in the part of the book that deals with the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego show credit given to Francis Bruguiere. The photos dealing with the Panama- Pacific Exhibition also include a number of night scenes with artificial lighting. The use of artificial lighting would play a key role in the later works of Bruguiere. The book also documents the architecture of the buildings and is an architectural photographic resource. The publishing date is 1915, so does this book actually precede the Evanescent City book? At first glance it seems so, but then the question arises why are some of the plates shown with full credit and others not. Oversight of the publisher? The style of architectural photography is undoubtedly the same through out the book, but can I safely make the assumption that this is the first book illustrated with photographs by Bruguiere?

Bruguiere had moved briefly to New York City in 1905 where he met with Stieglitz and Frank Smith and became involved with the Photo-Secessionist, exhibiting with them in 1910. He returned to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake that destroyed a large part of the city. Moving back to New York City around 1911. He became active in and involved with the artistic life there and at one point became the official photographer of the important Theater Guild. It is also known that he worked for Harper’s Magazine and other fashion magazines.

Here we have a rare short silent film Danse Macabre (1922) runtime 6:05 a George Eastman Kodak print where Bruguiere superbly orchestrated the lighting for the film. Thanks goes to arsanatomica for uploading this to Youtube.

As an artist, Bruguiere wanted to be on the forefront of the Avant garde and it is known that he experimented in the late 1920’s and early 30’s with folded paper and artificial lighting. This was similar to the type of abstract experiments done by Moholy Nagy at the Bauhaus in Germany. Bruguiere is mentioned in the 1936 seminal MOMA Catalog on Cubist and Abstract Art on the same page as Man Ray and Moholy Nagy.


The photographer moved to London and produced the first abstract film made in England and continued to illustrate books with his photographs. The Open Book reference catalog lists one book illustrated by him, but none of the other works produced by him.

Curiously, the reference section in the back of the 1936 MOMA Catalog lists a reference to an article written by Francis Bruguiere in Modern Photography that I could not find elsewhere until I was about to write a new post on the book below.


This book does not relate at all to the photographer.

However the announcement for the article written by Bruguiere for Modern Photography (mentioned in the MOMA Catalog reference section) was published in 1935 by the same publisher Studio Publications, on the very last page and the last lines of the Art in the USSR book!

studio books

Another interesting announcement on the same page is the publication of a very important book by Le Corbusier titled AIRCRAFT in their New Vision Photography series. The important archives of the George Eastman House, the invaluable photo source has a number of Bruguiere photographs worthwhile looking at.

The Museum of New Mexico held an exhibition on the photography of “ideas”  in which Bruguiere is mentioned in the important exhibit essays and a list of other photographers working with Avant garde ideas as well.

To be complete as much as possible here the following books on Francis Bruguiere have not been consulted for this post by me:

Coke, Van Deren, and Du Pont, Diana C. Photography A Facet of Modernism, New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1986.

Yates, Steve and Beaumont Newhall. Proto-Modern Photography. Santa Fe: Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of New Mexico, 1992.

Enyeart, James, Bruguiere: His Photographs and His Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.