Edwin F. Casper (1884 - 1951)

Birth date: 1884 Death date: 1951  
Birth location: Rockfield, Wisconsin Death location:  
Media: Photography Web site:
Fair (file rating) - MWA artist file may include basic data, and additional newspaper articles, book references, exhibition information, and images that can be researched on site at MWA.

Biographical Brief

Prominent, Milwaukee, amateur photographer and co-founder/organizer of Photo Pictorialists of Milwaukee.
Acquainted with Edward Steichen while he was in Milwaukee.
He was also one of the 100 charter members of The Photographic Society of America.

Biography

Edwin F. Casper

Born 1884 in Rockfield, Wisconsin

Died 1951

Edwin F. Casper was a prominent amateur photographer in Milwaukee in the early 20th century. He was born in Rockfield, a small town northwest of Milwaukee in 1884. In 1900, at the age of 16, he began taking photographs. At this time, the Pictorialist movement was taking root in the United States, seeking to give photography the same artistic respect as other fine art forms. To those who favored painting, which was still regarded as the highest fine art form, most “photographers” were thought of as weekend amateurs pursuing a hobby. The Pictorialists sought to raise themselves and their photographs above the average hobbyist and prove that the camera could indeed produce works of fine art. To do this, they chose subjects and compositions that mimicked paintings.

In 1902, at the age of eighteen, Casper started making paper negative and gum bi-chromate prints (invented in the 1850s, bi-chromate printing was made popular by the Pictorialists for its ability to mimic painterly images) and became a pioneer in these fields. To add color, he was known to use ground pastel and he also experimented with a variety of different papers for printing: the back of wallpapers, watercolor paper, and rice paper all served the young photographer as he crafted his process. In 1903, Casper was one of the original organizers of the Wisconsin Camera Club – now known as the Photo Pictorialists of Milwaukee.

Edwin Casper was an executive of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, having begun working there during its early years of operation. By 1913, he had risen to the position of Credit Manager. During World War I, while on leave from Harley-Davidson, he worked in Boston for the Bureau of Investigation, the predecessor of the FBI, on counter-espionage issues. In 1932 when he left Harley-Davidson to open Casper's Foto Shop in Milwaukee, the company, at the request of Walter Davidson, guaranteed the loan required to buy Casper’s new business.

Photographically, when printing large, sharp images became the vogue in the 1940's, Casper continued to print his images in the same manner he had always used. When he was no longer able to take photographs, he began speaking and judging on the subject throughout the state. He authored the history of the Photo Pictorialists of Milwaukee and an award is given by them annually in his name. Edwin Casper was also one of the 100 charter members of the Photographic Society of America.

From around 1906 to 1946, Mr. Casper’s photographs were given awards and honors at salons and exhibitions throughout the US, as well as internationally. His work was displayed at such places as Albright Art Gallery (now Albright-Knox Art Gallery), the Art Institute of Chicago, and The Carnegie Institute.

© 2/16/2009 Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend, Wisconsin                                                            2/17/2010

Wisconsin Affiliations

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Wisconsin Art Organizations

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