Art Cinema Clown Photography Vaudevisuals Bookshelf

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf ~ ‘Limelight – Photographs of James Abbe’ in Time

A pioneering photographer of the early cinema, James Abbe captured the spirit of entertainment in New York, Hollywood and Europe in the 1920s with his magically-lit portraits of the stars of screen and stage. A unique album of show business personalities, this book brings together Abbe’s iconic images of silent movie stars, his exuberant studies of revues at the Folies Bergere, and his fascinating record of early British cinema. Concluding with his reportage of the turbulent politics of the 1930s, Limelight encapsulates an era through one man’s brilliant career.

Billie Burke ~ 1920

Born in Alfred, Maine, James Abbe’s boyhood took place in Portsmouth, Virginia. His family owned the most important bookstore in that maritime city. At its counter James sold his photographs of ship launchings and arrivals taken with an inexpensive camera. Saturated with the print culture of the period, Abbe realized that photography was underutilized as illustration in American periodicals. He began placing photo illustrations with magazines in 1916. In 1917 he moved to New York City.

A sociable, witty man, Abbe had little trouble placing photographs in periodicals, but his break into the world of theatrical photography took place when he made a number of memorable portraits of the Barrymore brothers on stage in costume during dress rehearsals for “The Jest” in 1919. Abbe became fascinated with the nascent movie industry. He did portrait photography for several New York based cinema groups, especially for D.W. Griffith, and became the third New York based camera artist (after Karl Struss & Frank Bangs) to venture to the West Coast and work as a lensman in Hollywood. He worked for Mack Sennett for several months, even directing a now-lost comic two reeler, and as a photographer for Photoplay for another several month stint. He was the first bicoastal entertainment photographer.

Abbe had a remarkable talent for inspiring trust in stars and Lillian Gish convinced him to come to Italy in 1923 to work as a lighting consultant and still photographer for “The White Sister.” He closed his Broadway studio, abandoned his wife and children, and moved to Italy. He spent the next period of his life in Europe, photographing movie and stage productions in Paris and London and working as a photojournalist. Several landmark photographs of Joseph Stalin in a trip into the Soviet Union during the late 1930s would make him a celebrity of news photography during the late 1930s. His book, I Photograph Russia, was one of the important volumes of early photojournalism. He signed his vintage prints with his last name in red crayon on the lower-left corner of his images. He used a credit stamp for publicity images. Despite the relatively short duration of his career on Broadway, he was one of the greatest portraitists of the great age of theatrical portrait photography.

Charlie Chaplin by James Abbe

Abbe’s theatrical work was one of three photographic specialties he cultivated during his career. He also became an expert movie still photographer in 1920 and an important photojournalist in the 1930s. Brought to New York by magazine publishers interested in his experiments for using photographs as illustrations for narratives, Abbe won overnight renown in 1919 for his stage portraits of performers in costume. Enhancing the available stage lighting with a battery of portable lamps, he made intensely vivid images suggestive of interrupted stories.

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Charlie Chaplin Cinema Film Photography

James Abbe – Celebrity Photographer 1920’s-30’s

James Abbe – 1883-1973

James Abbe deserves his place in the hall of fame of great photographers for the two important strands of his career: as portraitist to the glittering stars of the 1920’s world of theater and film, and as a pioneer American Photojournalist observing firsthand the dramatically changing European cultural and political situation in his various travels throughout the late 1920s and 1930s.

Abbe was lured to the limelight of the east and west coast film studios of America and the theater stages of New York, London and Paris. In each place, he managed to encapsulate the illusions of performance into still visions of enchantment.

Russian film director Serge Eisenstein 1927  ©2019 James Abbe Archive

The first film star Abbe photographed was Marguerite Clark. Although now more or less forgotten, Clark was one of the highest-paid and most popular stars of her day. The New York Times ranked his as one of “the big four”, her fame rivaled that of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., all of whom Abbe also captured.

Charlie Chaplin in The Pilgrim ©2019 James Abbe Archive

Perhaps his most enduring relationship in the film world was with the Gish sisters. Lillian Gish is thought to be the greatest dramatic actress of the silent era, and her sister Dorothy, capable of a wide range of acting styles, was one of the greatest comediennes of the time.

Anna Pavlova ©2019 James Abbe Archives

Abbe visited Hollywood in 1920 and 1922 where he took portraits of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, and also directed a film for Mack Sennett. After working for seven months on location in Italy with Ronald Colman – Lillian Gish film ‘The White Sister“(1923), Abbe made his base in Paris. His main reputation as a theater photographer preceded him and soon he was gravitating towards the best in French theatre and revue, including the Dolly Sisters, and Mistinguette, introducing them to a worldwide audience through his picture syndication.

George Gershwin ©2019 James Abbe Archives

Abbe soon became one of the leading celebrity photographers of the 1920s and is best known for these iconic portraits of both cinema and stage. He quickly established an international reputation, appearing in Vanity Fair, Ladies Home Journal, Vogue, British Tatler, French Vu, and many other publications.

Throughout the 1920s, Abbe made regular trips back and forth between London, Paris, and London to photograph theatre and film-making activities. He also traveled to Spain, Germany, Russian, the USA, and Mexico as a correspondent.

Louise Brooks ©2019 James Abbe Archives

For more information and to view additional Abbe photographs go here!

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Photography Vaudevisuals Bookshelf

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “The Great Nadar”

THE GREAT NADAR – The Man Behind the Camera

by Adam Begley

“The most astonishing expression of vitality.”  Baudelaire

Exuberant, agitated, impetuous, horrified by tedium and relentlessly and infectiously gregarious. – The Great Nadar by Adam Begley

A recent French biography begins, Who doesn’t know Nadar? In France, that’s a rhetorical question. Of all of the legendary figures who thrived in mid-19th-century Paris—a cohort that includes Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Gustave Courbet, and Alexandre DumasNadar was perhaps the most innovative, the most restless, the most modern.

The first great portrait photographer, a pioneering balloonist, the first person to take an aerial photograph, and the prime mover behind the first airmail service, Nadar was one of the original celebrity artist-entrepreneurs. A kind of 19th-century Andy Warhol, he knew everyone worth knowing and photographed them all, conferring on posterity psychologically compelling portraits of Manet, Sarah Bernhardt, Delacroix, Daumier and countless others—a priceless panorama of Parisian celebrity.

Born Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, he adopted the pseudonym Nadar as a young bohemian, when he was a budding writer and cartoonist. Later he affixed the name Nadar to the façade of his opulent photographic studio in giant script, the illuminated letters ten feet tall, the whole sign fifty feet long, a garish red beacon on the boulevard. Nadar became known to all of Europe and even across the Atlantic when he launched “The Giant,” a gas balloon the size of a twelve-story building, the largest of its time. With his daring exploits aboard his humongous balloon (including a catastrophic crash that made headlines around the world), he gave his friend Jules Verne the model for one of his most dynamic heroes.

The Great Nadar is a brilliant, lavishly illustrated biography of a larger-than-life figure, a visionary whose outsized talent and canny self-promotion put him way ahead of his time.

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David Linsell – Magical Photographer – A Tribute


A Magical Photographer and Wonderful Man.

I first met David online in 2016 when I contacted Potter & Potter to get some photographs of their upcoming Magic auction to post on this blog.  David responded to my email with a gracious and professional tone that was so wonderful. We emailed back and forth for quite some time since we had so many friends in common and he was ‘the’ photographer for catalogs created at Potter & Potter. He also happened to be ‘the’ photographer for the entire ‘Magic’ world. Having photographed hundreds of shows and performers over the course of his career. He sent me a copy of his beautiful book which contained a collection of photographs from his portfolio that were stunning. I am posting some of his images here as an example of his brilliant work!


Marco Tempest

Mike Caveney

Tina Lenert

Eugene Burger

Jay Marshall and Lefty

Michael Ammar

Gene Anderson

David Kaplin



To see more of David’s Portfolio go here.

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And also, some of the folks that posted on Facebook after he passed away.

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David was working with magic man Peter Samelson on a book for Richard Kaufman‘s publishing venture. I contacted Peter and he informed me that the many hours spent with David working on the book lasted until David passed. Here is a chronological post from Peter about his relationship with David.

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I didn’t finish in time. Isn’t it often like that. There’s too much life. And not enough time.  


You get to know a person better when you share a project. Over the years I’d known David, it had started as it often does with a chance encounter, a common passion putting the two of you in the same place at the same time.

Yes, it was on the opposite sides of the glass, but the magic was why we were there. And yet, only on my last visit did we ever just do magic together. Every other time, I was the subject of his discernment. 

Then David reached out when he was coming to New York, not to shoot my shows but just to catch up.

Magic and photography merged in mutual friends, Charles and Regina Reynolds. I’m keeping this short. It was at one of these lunches at A.O.C. that I learned David was fighting for his life. You’d never know it if you didn’t know it. 

Last fall, at lunch, we decided to do a project. I had begun working on a book and Richard Kaufman had said he wanted photography instead of illustration. It came up at lunch. And David said one thing he’d never done, was shoot photographs for a book teaching magic. Between his amazing skill capturing live performances and his years of documenting Magicana for Potter and Potter, he had perfected the skill set needed. We’d better get started he said, didn’t know how much time he had left.

So we started in January. I wasn’t really ready to shoot. The book was in my head but not on paper. I prepped. I made shot lists. How many needed other hands. Which were front views, which over the shoulder, which x-ray? And so it started. Of course, David caught most of what I missed but still, I decided to come back for the grand opening of the Chicago Magic Lounge at the end of February and we did pickups. 

I was leaving May 1st for two months and had a few more ideas. Let’s shoot when I get back, in July, I said. David insisted we do it the end of April because you never know. Good thing we did.

We shot at Potter & Potter and I set up performances at CML on stage and behind the bar and David kept shooting. Thousands of images. 

May and June were filled with too much life. I barely had enough time to breathe. July arrived. I wasn’t done. David was weaker. We started making plans for me to fly to Chicago, to pick him up and drive him to Colon, MI on August 1st so he could attend Abbott’s Magic convention. A week later I hadn’t heard from him. 


When I did hear from David, well into July, he was just headed home from the hospital. Headed home to hospice. No going to Abbott’s. No Magic Live. Hospice. The next week I was headed to Orlando to perform and lecture at the National S.A.M. (Society of American Magicians) Convention.

The August issue of their monthly magazine was featuring David on the cover, honoring him and his photography. It was going to drop after Orlando.

The Convention was ending on a Monday night. I’d fly home Tuesday, and then the next weekend, I thought, I’d fly to Chicago to see David. Better hurry his wife said, each day takes him a bit further away.

OK, time to change plans. A poster-sized print of the magazine cover was made while the convention was on, and it was filled with signatures from those members and leaders who were there, and there were many!

I flew directly to Chicago from Orlando to spend time with David, to take the large cover print with all the signatures to him, to thank him, to say goodbye, to make some final decisions, to confirm that he’s sent out hard drives with the photos for the book. Oh damn, the book. 

When David and I decided on this project, Richard had told me that I had an obligation to finish the book before David died. I had hoped I could. I hadn’t. I had hoped there’d be enough time. There wasn’t. 

Sometimes, there’s not enough time.



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During the time David worked at Potter & Potter he maintained a close friendship with the owner Gabe Fajuri. Here are some lovely comments from Gabe.

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“To say that David Linsell was the most positive person I’ve met would be a true understatement. Without exaggeration, I can say that he was simply the most enthusiastic, bright, cheerful, sun bright-beaming man I’ve ever met. Even in the last year – really, in the last four or five years – when his illness was discovered, and then, later, when things really got harder and harder for him, I never saw his outlook falter or shake.

Of course, as a photographer, David was a real talent. He and I worked together for six or seven years and knew each other for much longer than that. It was at his suggestion that he “help” me at Potter & Potter that we came to spend so much time together – part-time at first, and full time not long after that. He became our first one-man photo department and was always the number one magic enthusiast at the auction house. More importantly, he made us look good.

He was also a caring, kind man – a family man who so loved his wife and daughter. Someone you could count on, no matter what your relationship to him. A loyal, loving guy. You can’t ask for much more than that.

David officially retired in January, but still worked on auction day and was a constant presence at our office. That won’t change any time soon, despite his passing.

David, my dear friend, you will be deeply and truly missed. Rest in peace.”


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R.I.P. David Linsell

David Linsell, 1953-2018

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Aerial Acts Bindlestiff Open Stage Variety Show Clown Comedy Dixon Place Magic Magic Performing Arts Photography Variety Arts Video Women

Bindlestiff Open Stage Variety Show – October 2015


The Bindlestiff Open Stage Variety Show


Michael Bongar hosted a great evening of variety at Dixon Place. 

Yoyo genius Justin Weber performed with black light.Yo-yo genius Justin Weber performed with black light.

Dandy Darkly performs at Dixon PlaceDandy Darkly performs a seductive bizarre tale about a Hollywood film star.

Ambrose Martos perfomed an audience participation piece.Ambrose Martos perfomed an audience participation  piece. “Spin The Bottle”.

Kira performs a beautiful aerial act.Kira performs a beautiful aerial act.

Ryan Shinji Murray participated by doing the 'walk up' act. Great!Ryan Shinji Murray participated by doing the ‘walk up’ act. Great rope moves!

2015.10.05_BindOpnStg.164Magic Mike made one of his rare appearances and entertained the crowd.

Circus VindleVoss performed their wild 'zombie' piece.Circus VindleVoss (Karim Muasher & Carrie Brown) performed their wild ‘zombie’ piece.

Happy Hour Trio performed a rather risque piece.The Happy Hour Trio (Ambrose Martos, Mark Gindick, and Matt Morgan) performed a rather risque piece. 

2015.10.05_BindOpnStg.145Innocent audience member Jay Katz gets caught in the middle of this ‘risque’ trio.


The evening’s finale was a wild man Matt Morgan performing in his underwear and getting the audience involved in his beer drinking escapade.

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