Tag Archives: Photography

A William Rittase Gallery (II)

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
A William Rittase classroom image from the 1940s, with teacher Earl N. Johnston. The dramatic lighting, from floods placed outside the margins of the image, is characteristic. (Please click images to enlarge.)

William Rittase (1894-1968) was an American photographer based in Philadelphia.   On several occasions from the mid-1930 to the early 1950s, he was hired by Williston Academy to create catalogue images. He also, on at least one occasion in the ‘forties, shot photos at Northampton School for Girls. Rittase’s artistic interests lay in industrial and railroad subjects, for which his work is prized by collectors today. Catalogue photography was undoubtedly meant to pay the bills. But in retrospect, Rittase’s catalogue photography frequently surpasses the medium for which it was intended.

Rittase’s images are sprinkled throughout this blog, but only once, in A William Rittase Sports Gallery, have we devoted a full post just to his work. Not long ago his grandson left a comment on that page. That led to the realization that we have a great many wonderful images that we haven’t shared. Thus, this article.

South Hall, on the Old Campus, with the Easthampton Congregational Church in the background. The cloud effect is another Rittase signature

His style lent a distinctive look to Williston’s and Northampton’s marketing materials. Rittase’s work is typically characterized by dramatic lighting and high contrast between light and shadow.   In outdoor photographs, billowing clouds are another signature.  Sometimes he obtained his singular chiaroscuro through artificial means, placing floodlights at unusual angles, occasionally casting striking shadows. Retired Williston photography instructor Bob Couch ’50 has observed that Rittase’s trademark clouds sometimes repeat themselves from one image to the next. (And Rittase worked half a century before anyone had imagined digital photo editing.)

Chemistry at Northampton School for Girls, around 1945. Rittase has darkened the room, except for a flood placed low behind the glassware.

Most of Rittase’s photographs survive in the Archives as mounted gallery prints, in which the images measure approximately 13.75″ x 10.” Over the years, many of these have faded or the dyes in the prints turned sepia. But because we have the published images, and because other Rittase work is available as a reference, we have a good sense of what the originals once looked like. A number of years ago, using modern scanning and digital editing, we undertook a project to try to reproduce the photographs in something approximating their original state.

A Rittase print in its present state.
The preceding photograph, digitally restored. The tower of the old gymnasium appears in the background.

Beyond their often sheer beauty, Rittase’s pictures present aspects of student life and the campus that have long since vanished. Here are some of his best — or most interesting images. Viewers are encouraged to look for some of the Rittase attributes described above.

Faculty and Students
Classics master Lincoln Grannis, 1944. In this case we can date the photo from the calendar on the wall.
English teacher Chuck Rouse in conference.
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An Andrew Lapidus Gallery

by Rick Teller '70

Andy Lapidus with his dog Radnik.
Andy Lapidus with his dog, Radnik. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Andy Lapidus – Andrew Stone Lapidus – wasn’t at Williston Academy for very long.  Having spent three years at Avon Old Farms, he was tempted north to Williston’s greener French Department and pastures in 1964.  Away from the classroom and the soccer field, he was rarely without a camera, and at a time when Williston didn’t offer a photography class, organized a camera club.

He left Williston in 1966 for the Cate School in Carpinteria, California, met his future bride Roxanne, and eventually shifted his professional attentions from French to counseling and advocacy for youth.  They raised three sons, Peter, Alex, and Paul. Sadly, he left us, aged 72, in 2010.  A few months ago Roxanne sent the Archives a cache of photographs he’d taken at Williston.  We exchanged a couple of letters – she was initially surprised that anyone remembered him.  Roxie visited the campus at Reunion last May and met others who had fond recollections as well.

The gang from upstairs in Manchester House, 1964-65. From the top, John Robinson, Larry Shapiro, Bill Buckley, Andy Wernick, and Charlie Wilder, all class of ’68. Thanks, Larry, for the IDs.

But of course I remembered him.  Andy was unforgettable.  Perhaps I should qualify that memory.  In 1964 I was 12, a somewhat nerdish, classically-trained Williston faculty brat.  Brats of my ilk found Andy fascinating.  Here was an adult who didn’t take adult-ness too seriously, who would break off a grownup conversation to deliver a wicked aside meant only for juvenile ears, or deliver a straight-faced pun so horrible that even Horace Thorner would shudder.  He was subversively funny.  I think we understood that deep down, he was one of us.

And his camera was an essential accessory.  Some of Andy’s native whimsy comes through in his photographs, especially in certain portraits, which often capture something unspoken about their subjects.

Here is a sampling.  Where images are uncaptioned, it is because we don’t know who the people are.  Readers are invited to help us with that; please email archives@williston.com; if you can fill in a blank, or if anyone is mis-identified, we’d like to know!

Chief cook Alphonse Barry
Chief cook Alphonse Barry

Richard Gregory applying stage makeup to Rogelio Novey
Richard Gregory applying stage makeup to Rogelio Novey

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Track and the Camera

Photo by Rachel Deena ’13. Click images to enlarge.

Preparation for the inauguration of the Williston Northampton Athletic Hall of Fame — whose first class will be enshrined on Reunion Weekend, June 6-8 — has involved looking at a great many photographs.  I hadn’t thought about this much before, but it has recently occurred to me that some sports are more photogenic than others.  Before I sink my own ship by suggesting that, for example, all field hockey photos look the same (they don’t!), or that golf images tend to be ruined by golfer’s outfits (can I get back to you?), let me go out on a limb and suggest that one of  the sports that has produced an awful lot of really exciting photography over the years at Williston is Track and Field.

Golf, late 1930s. Those checked trousers and two-tone shoes have never gone out of style. (William Rittase)

There are undoubtedly reasons for this, some of which, truthfully, may reflect this writer’s prejudices.  I mean, preferences.  So we won’t delve too deeply into the psycho-sociological issues of why, for example, from the photographer’s point of view, helmets and sticks can both be dealt with, but not usually at the same time.

(Yu Chen Wang ’15)

OK, let’s be serious.  Is it that track and field athletes, perhaps more than any others, achieve pinnacles of effort and passion that are concentrated in the briefest of durations, perhaps a few seconds, perhaps even less?  Yes, this happens in other sports, but I submit — without meaning to diminish any athlete’s accomplishment — that most of the time the brilliant goal-out-of-nowhere, the impossible catch, is reactive.  For the track and field athlete, successful execution is entirely studied.  And the great jump, the winning acceleration derives from someplace deep within the athlete’s psyche, a place where the soul is quite alone, where all that remains is abandonment to the moment.

(Yu Chen Wang ’15)

Or perhaps this is nonsense.  But the camera has captured some extraordinary track and field moments.  The older images on this page are the work of William Rittase (1894-1968), a Philadelphia-based photographer who specialized in industrial images, but who did some very special catalog work at both Williston and Northampton School in the 1930s and ’40s.  His photos are even more remarkable when one considers that he favored a large-format camera that was not conducive to “action” photography at all.

(William Rittase)

As many are aware, there is a photographic tradition at Williston Northampton.  Bob Couch ’50 mentored student photographers beginning in the 1960s and began to teach photo courses in the ’70s.  That program is now in the capable hands of Edward Hing ’77, himself a Couch protégé.  We offer seven different photography and film courses plus evening lecture programs that bring world-class photographers and photojournalists to campus.  And wherever one looks on campus, there are talented kids with cameras looking back.  We’re proud to feature some of their work here as well.

(Rachel Deena ’13)

(William Rittase)

William Rittase

(Yu Chen Wang ’15)

(William Rittase)

(Rachel Deena ’13)

(William Rittase)

We welcome your comments and questions!  Please use the reply form below.

Faces of 1862

With the rise of relatively inexpensive albumen printing in the 1860s, photographic visiting cards—universally known by the more tony-sounding cartes de visite, reflecting their French origins—became wildly popular.

Of a standard size of 2½ by 4 inches, they could be inserted in commercially available albums.  School and college students, no doubt encouraged by photography studios, soon took advantage.  In the decades before the rise of the photographic yearbook (Williston’s Log first appeared in 1902), seniors typically purchased photo albums and filled them with the cartes de visite of their classmates.

Recently a set of cartes de visite stamped “Graduating Class, Williston Seminary, 1862” came into the hands of Rex Solomon ‘84, who has generously donated them to the Williston Northampton Archives.  It is a significant gift.  Though incomplete, it is the earliest set of class photographs in the Archives’ collection.

The images are in especially good condition for their age and chemistry.  Typically, chemicals, impurities, and moisture in the original paper, glue, and cardboard backing react with the environment and one another, causing fading, yellowing, mildew, and the deterioration of the paper itself.  But after 150 years, these photographs remain remarkably sharp and clean.

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