Frank Wendt Sideshow Photography Master of a Neglected Nature







Frank Wendt has always been unfairly placed in the shadow of Sideshow Freak photographer Charles Eisenmann, his mentor. Wendt took over the Eisenmann studio on the Bowery in 1893 and ran it for five years before moving it to New Jersey. He continued making pictures there for a number of years, some quite extraordinary. In 1979, just as interest in collecting circus freak photos was rising (in part as interest in Diane Arbus was rising as well) a book on Eisenmann was published which dismissed Wendt's work as "perfunctory" and that the production of those years has all but been "obliterated." Au contraire! As we are just learning, MANY exceptional images remain. The photos here are certainly not obliterated.

Wendt specialized in the unusual, of course as you can see. But he had a wider clientele than Eisenmann. He shot all manner of performers, not just the strange. In fact, some of his most beautiful work is normal looking actors and child performers, who would use his cabinet card photographs as trade cards, mementos and such, frequently selling them to admirers for a dime each. Often the performers autographed the cards on the reverse, personalizing them to fans and the freaked. In the case of the carnival performers, vital statistics were often provided though frequently exaggerated. In fact, Wendt would take his pictures to emphasize the particular trait or deformity being marketed.
As traveling shows passed through New York and New Jersey, they would stop to replenish their stock. Sometimes Wendt would republish Eisenmann's work on his own cards, but frequently a new photo was taken, and the same performers often appear in later pictures, with different imprints or logos on the cards.

I have posted work by Frank Wendt on this site before, they are worth looking at. As research continues, I plan to expand on the story with a book and exhibition.

Frank Wendt Five Original Cabinet Card Photographs circa 1890-1900 Collection Jim Linderman

SOON I WILL MOVE THESE TO THE WONDROUS WORLD OF FRANK WENDT
A site I am constructing.

3 comments:

  1. I am glad i came across this blog. I have been trying to look Wendt up for i have a card he had made. I did not know his first name until now. The card is of a girl named Clara Clark of Mulkeytown IL, very beautiful. She was 5 yrs old. There is a stamped description of her on the back. I have been trying to find some kind of worth to the card. I love it though. I would love to have your insight of the card since you said he had not only done freaks but actresses/actors as well. So i am assuming she was a child actress?

    ReplyDelete
  2. BOUGHT A PHOTO ALBUM AT YARD SALE AND THERE IS A PIC LABELED THE MODERN MR AND MRS TOM THUMB FRANK WENDT PHOTO ARTIST NEW YORK IS THIS A REPRINT THEN ? THEY LOOK YOUNG IN THE PIC HAVE BEEN LOOKING STILL CANT FIND A COPY LIKE MINE ARE THESE WORTH ANYTHING ? JUST CURIOUS NOT SELLING MINE I LIKE IT

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have the same card that is at the top of this page. It is by Wendt. The writing is different than yours. Photo is the same

    ReplyDelete