Francis L. Cooper


Avocational Photographer

This page presents the work of Francis L. Cooper. The twenty photographs are drawn from an exhibit at Woodmere Gallery, Philadelphia - May-June, 1996 that was curated by Jay Ruby of Temple University. A full length article by Ruby, discussing Cooper's work and place in turn of the century photography, accompanies this page. A book length biography of Cooper has been completed. Information about "The World of Francis Cooper" is available at Penn State University Press.

You can circulate among the photographs by clicking on any thumbnail on this page. By scrolling to the bottom of the image you can move forward or backwards in the exhibit by clicking on either the right or left arrow. Clicking on the image itself will take you to the appropriate place in Ruby's article.

Excerpt from the Brochure and Abstract to Ruby's article

Not a Bad Shot is an exhibition of the photographs of Francis L. Cooper (1874-1944), a native Philadelphian, who practiced photography in the 1890s as an aesthetic recreation while a medical student at the University of
Pennsylvania. From 1896 to 1901, Cooper regularly traveled to Juniata County to hunt, fish, bicycle, court his wife, and photograph landscapes, genre farm scenes, as well as record the spoils of his hunts. While in the city, he took snapshots of his family in Philadelphia and Narberth and of medical school and St. Agnes Hospital friends and gun club colleagues as well as candids and genre studies of the romance of city life during the Gilded Age. Like others, Cooper was experimentally expanding the subject matter of photography - discovering the capabilities of the new "point and shoot" technology of simple roll film cameras designed to be hand held.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia was an internationally recognized center for photography. From 1898 to 1901, the Philadelphia Photographic Society organized photographic salons at the Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts - a turning point of the public's awareness of photography as an art form. The Philadelphia Inquirer published editorials debating the merits of photography as art. Cooper was witness to the birth and public recognition of photography as a fine art. His work helps us to understand how the aesthetic debates taking place on a national and international level effected middle class young people sufficiently affluent to afford artistic recreations like photography and to gain a new insight into the beginnings of modern photographic practices from artistically intended landscapes to snapshots. For one year Cooper entered the world of photographic competitions and exhibitions. His prints were exhibited at the 1899 Wanamaker's Exhibition of Photographs by Amateurs; won a prize at the 1899 Philadelphia Inquirer Photographic Contest; and two prints were selected for exhibition at the 1900 Paris International Exposition.

In 1901 Cooper moved to Spruce Hill, Pennsylvania became a country squire and raised a family. For four years, Cooper had transformed the Juniata county countryside into pictorial landscapes and genre scenes, enabling him to have a brief encounter with the fine arts world of exhibitions and competitions. Now a part of the landscape he photographed, Cooper's interest in artistic photography waned. For the next 20 years he occasionally produced commissioned portraits, farm views, and family groups for his neighbors. By 1920 Cooper had abandoned photography completely. He took his cameras, prints, and albums and placed them in his attic where they remained untouched until his daughter rescued them from dispersal and destruction.

Go to Jay's article.

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Go to Fixing Shadows (Francis Cooper's home page).