Illuminating Photographer Frank B. Clench
On June 17, 2014, Illuminated History held its third annual cemetery tour in which twelve actors portrayed residents of the burying ground. The tour, which was sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society, took place at the Fairport Historical Museum due to inclement weather. Greenvale Rural Cemetery in the village of Fairport, New York, was the focus of the tour.
In this Illuminated History series, each of the scripts are based on in depth historical research, although some creative license may have been taken. In this presentation, Frank B. Clench was portrayed by Charles Profitt.
I feel a photographer should be a man of the shadows, with the emphasis on the sitter of the portrait, not on the photographer himself. My name is F. B. Clench, though you may call me Frank. My life began in Canada in 1838, but my professional career as a photographer began upon my move to Lockport, New York, in 1863. Let’s move from the shadows of my personal life into the spotlight of my professional life, shall we?
In Lockport, I opened my first photographic studio, and soon became known as one of Lockport’s finest regional photographers. In fact, I commanded the highest sitting fee in Lockport – $6! You see, it has always irked me that a good photographer could spend so much time with a patron and yet see very little profit. I’ve learned that a too eager desire to please patrons leads them to bad habits. These bad habits are conferred by one patron to another, and so our troubles increase. To combat these bad habits, I have an ironclad rule of business, and it is thus: study the subject well in all the different views. Make up your mind which is the best photograph and show only that photograph to the patron. If the patron is unhappy, inform them they may have another sitting, for an additional fee. And if they choose to order photographs made from more than one sitting, charge them accordingly. I made a fine living abiding by these rules. Why, there were some months of the year during my busy seasons when I earned over $400 per month. With that considerable sum, and I was able to support myself and my wife, Mary, quite nicely. I became known, not only for my cabinet cards, but also for my crayon portraits.
You may not be surprised to learn that I am the holder of no less than four patents. Three of these patents have to do with photography and the other is a cuspidor. As you can imagine, many of my gentlemen patrons to the photographic gallery indulge in chaw. Since I detest cleaning the spittle from the cuspidor, I devised a removable saliva holder which serves to keep the gallery cleaner and the carpet safer from tobacco stains.
My pride and joy, however, was the invention and patenting of “the Plaque”. What is the Plaque? Well, it is a design that goes around the edges of a cabinet card. I noticed that the same photographic card styles of years ago are still in vogue. Why is it so few changes or novelties are introduced by photographers? Every other line of business has its fashionable novelties. We want more fashion, nicer settings for our work, and we don’t want it all in the frame. We want the picture worth as much as the frame. I have prepared myself to supply licenses for my patent, including presses, dies, and accessories, complete with full Instructions on how to make Plaques at reasonable rates. I do not wish to sell exclusive licenses at present, believing all photographers should share the advantages of my patent. For just $25, you can have the complete outfit. The Plaque promises to be the next big thing in photography, mark my words.
I was always looking for a good business opportunity, and one soon presented itself. After visiting friends in Fairport and finding the village to be charming, I moved here from Lockport in 1889. I was fortunate to secure pleasant, commodious rooms in the Deal block, in which I occupied the entire second floor, the first floor being given over entirely to the newspaper. It was the perfect location for my photographic studio, and my business increased dramatically. However, the improvement to my bank account could not cure my wife.
She had been ill for quite some time and, in March 1896, my wife, Mary, passed on. After a suitable period of mourning, I wed Mrs. Lucy Howard Burlingame Lewis the following March. The fact that I was her third husband did not bother me. Lucy and I shared a love of travel, and that is what prompted me to sell my photographic studio to William McQuivey in 1900 and remove to Georgia with Lucy. However, I soon learned that retirement was not for me. The next fourteen years were spent photographing patrons at my new home in Madison, Georgia, although Lucy and I often traveled back to visit our friends in Fairport.
After years of this travel back and forth, we realized how much we missed Fairport and, in July 1914, we returned to this village for good. Sadly, I did not have much time to enjoy our return, as I died November 1st of the same year at age 76 after an illness of six weeks. If you take anything away from our conversation this evening, remember this: When you commence business be careful and make good rules, and then adhere strictly to them, for by deviating you will create bad habits.
Script by Vicki Masters Profitt
(c) 2014 Vicki Profitt’s Illuminated History