This collection of photographs taken by Joseph Steinmetz includes images of social events, tourist locations and activities, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, prominent people, and various recreation and industry shots from the 1930s to the 1970s. The collection is housed in its entirety, and available to researchers, at the State Archives of Florida.
Collection Number: N2011- 7
Creator: Steinmetz, Joseph Janney
Title: Joseph Janney Steinmetz photographic collection, 1930s-1970s.
Quantity: 5000 photographs (2300 online)
Joseph Janney Steinmetz was a world-renowned commercial photographer whose images appeared in such publications as The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, Holiday, Collier's and Town and Country. His work has been referred to as "an American social history," which documented diverse scenes of American life from affluent northeasterners to middle-class Floridians. Steinmetz's Florida images in particular document the rapid development of the state and the marketing strategies commonly employed in post-World War II America.
This collection of photographs taken by Joseph Steinmetz includes images of social events, tourist locations and activities, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, prominent people, and various recreation and industry shots from the 1930s to the 1970s. Most of the photographs were taken in Florida, although there are also images from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and outside the United States. To demonstrate the scope of Steinmetz's work, selected images taken outside Florida are also included in the digital selection.
Steinmetz was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1905 and died in Sarasota, Florida in 1985. The son of a prominent Philadelphia businessman and a mother who studied at the Boston Conservatory, Steinmetz's interest in photography dated back to the Christmas of 1912 when he received his first camera as a gift from his parents.
Steinmetz earned a degree in English from Princeton University. Following college, Steinmetz traveled the world. In Egypt, he purchased his first professional camera in 1928, a Leica model B. Upon returning to Philadelphia, Steinmetz began taking candid wedding photographs and arranging them into albums as gifts. This work made Steinmetz well known among elite Philadelphians who started hiring him to photograph their weddings. Through this early work, he is credited with inventing candid photo coverage of weddings, which until then were only documented with staid studio portraits.
A chance encounter at a society event with Pete Marin, an editor for The Saturday Evening Post, led to Steinmetz's first consistent work as a professional photographer. Martin paid him $150 to photograph fans in the bleachers at a baseball game. Steinmetz later remarked that this job propelled him into his photographic career.
After moving to Sarasota, Florida in 1941, Steinmetz's work appeared in numerous nationally distributed magazines. He fell in love with the circus that wintered there and photographed the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for 20 years. For one of his most memorable assignments, Steinmetz traveled with the circus and produced iconic images of the performers' life on the road including the famous clown Emmett Kelly. He also worked on various assignments from the Florida Development Commission which sent him around the state to make photos promoting tourism. Later he collaborated with his wife Lois, and the couple became noted photo journalists specializing in destination coverage of Florida and the Caribbean.
During World War II, Steinmetz served as an officer in the United States Navy where he taught photography at the Naval Photography School in Pensacola, Florida. His work there also contributed to the development of aerial reconnaissance photography.
Steinmetz twice served as president of the Florida Professional Photographers and earned the honorary degree of Master of Photography from the Professional Photographers Association of America.
In recognition of his work, a selection of Steinmetz's photographs was compiled by Harvard University and exhibited throughout the country during the 1970s and 1980s. Many of these images are published in Steinmetz's book, Killing Time (1982), edited by Barbara Norfleet, Curator of Photography at Harvard's Department of Visual and Environmental Studies.
After his death, Steinmetz' photographic collection was stored at Historic Spanish Point in Sarasota County for several years. In 1995 the collection was passed down to Steinmetz's grandson Brett Arquette from Joe Steinmetz's wife. Arquette spent months weeding out more recent portrait photographs (1970s and later) and damaged items from the collection. After storing the collection at his home for 18 years, he decided to donate the collection to the State Archives in 2011 so the world could share and enjoy his grandfather's work.