One Family’s Lens: The Photography of the Bretzman Studio explores the art of creating a portrait, displays views of some of Indianapolis’ most significant events and people through one family’s lens, and illuminates our efforts to conserve and preserve the photographs, negatives and other visual materials from the Bretzman Photography Studio. See it in the Rosemary McKee Lanham Gallery on the fourth level of the History Center Aug. 10 through Nov. 2.
Beginning in 1900, the Bretzman Photography Studio produced some of the finest photography from Indianapolis. Founder Charles Bretzman, his son Noble and grandson Erich took a countless number of photos between 1900 and 1980. Charles was known for his portrait work and Cirkut photos and was also the first official photographer for the Indianapolis 500. Noble was an illustrative photographer and known for being the L.S. Ayres contract photographer and for his photos of dance performances, especially ballet. Erich was a photographer for the U.S. Army and later worked for his father. The Bretzmans took incredible photographs of some of the most significant events in Indianapolis and made portraits of some of its most prominent inhabitants.
Presented by Marianne Williams Tobias with support from the Emerson B. and Jane H. Houck Endowment for Hoosier Photography
About Charles Bretzman
Charles F. Bretzman was born in Hanover, Germany, on July 26, 1866. He had settled in Chicago by 1894 but moved to Indianapolis in February 1900. He worked as a staff photographer for the Indianapolis News and The Indianapolis Star for several years while opening his own photography studio at 142 S. Illinois St. By 1905, he had moved his studio to 22 ½ N. Pennsylvania St.
Charles was widely known for his portrait photography and built a respected reputation among the citizens of Indianapolis. The president of the Indiana Photographers’ Association said at the time of Charles’ death in 1934 that “his craftsmanship was highly painstaking and complete. His passing is a distinct loss to the profession.”
Learn more about Charles Bretzman and the Bretzman Photography Studio in a new Destination Indiana journey on the first level of the History Center or online at www.destination-indiana.com.
Supported by the Bretzman Family
Preserving the Work
On July 6, 1980, arsonists set a Victorian home at 1831 N. Meridian St. on fire. The home housed the Bretzman Photography Studio archives, the offices for the Indianapolis Ballet Theater and Noble Bretzman’s photography studio.
Luckily, Noble Bretzman had already agreed to donate most of his father’s collection of glass plates, photographs and negatives to the Indiana Historical Society, plus some of his own work. IHS had removed much of the Bretzman Photography Studio archives just two weeks before the fire.
After the fire, IHS conservators returned to the building to salvage as many records, photographs, negatives and glass plates as they could. Despite damage from smoke and from the water used to put out the flames, only a small percentage of the archives were not recoverable, though much of what was saved would need to undergo heavy preservation efforts.
When a collection comes to us, it can take months, years or even decades for all parts of the collection to be stabilized and made accessible to the public. Addressing the needs of the Bretzman Collection has been a long-term project. Since 2016, the Conservation Department has been surveying the 1,600 glass plate negatives of Charles Bretzman’s portrait photography. The condition survey process allows us to look closely at each plate, noting interesting features and recording significant damage. This information is then used to set treatment priorities and determine the safest, most effective methods for cleaning and repairing these fragile negatives.
When you visit, go to the W. Brooks and Wanda Y. Fortune History Lab on the second level to see a mini-exhibit about the Bretzman survey project.