Visitors to the lower level of Williston Northampton’s Sabina Cain Family Athletic Center may already be familiar with some of these photographs. William Rittase (1894-1968) was an American photographer based in Philadelphia. His work is now prized by collectors. Rittase frequently specialized in railroad and industrial subjects, but on several occasions in the 1930s and ’40s, he was hired by both Williston Academy and Northampton School for Girls to produce catalog photography, thereby giving a distinctive look to the schools’ marketing materials of the time.
Rittase’s work is often characterized by dramatic lighting and high contrast between light and shadow. Billowing clouds are one of his signatures. Most of the Archives’ Rittase photographs survive as gallery prints in which the image measures 13.75″ x 10.”
But Rittase was not above a measure of artistic chicanery. Former Williston photography teacher Bob Couch ’50 has observed that the same clouds appear in multiple photographs. And consider the preceding photograph — by any standard, a brilliant action shot. But think about the vantage point. To get this angle, Rittase would have had to to have been standing on a ladder in the infield.And no, Rittase wasn’t using a telephoto lens. In fact, he favored a large-format camera, that used 4 x 5″ film or larger, had a fixed lens, and weighed many pounds. So the wonderful photo above was, in fact, staged, even choreographed. The photographer is apparently sitting on the ground just a few feet from the blockers’ knees. Continue reading