Tag Archives: William Rittase

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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A William Rittase Sports Gallery

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

A typical William Rittase outdoor shot, with his signature dramatic clouds. (Please click all images to enlarge.)

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

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)

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