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Bramson Photography Contest: Bramson Biography

Stern J. Bramson (1912‑1989) was a commercial photographer in Louisville, Kentucky in the mid twentieth century. His work is housed at the University of Louisville Photographic Archives and is also represented in collections at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dayton Art Institute, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the J.B. Speed Art Museum as well as in many private collections.

When he was only 10 years old, Stern Bramson started helping his father, Louis Bramson, on professional photography shoots. After graduating from DuPont Manual High School in 1930, Stern officially became a photographer for Royal Photo Company, which was founded by his father in 1904.

Despite the Great Depression, Royal was a large and thriving business with offices in downtown Louisville and a client list that included most of the city's major firms. Stern was given commercial, medical and legal photo assignments with subjects ranging from accident scenes,  store windows, and new cars to major league baseball players and motion picture premieres. He built a statewide business taking large group photographs with Cirkut cameras, and he documented major construction projects like General Electric's Appliance Park and Ford Motor Company's heavy truck plant. 

Except for three years in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II, Stern spent his entire career at Royal Photo Company, eventually becoming the principal photographer and then, after his father's death in 1966, owner of the studio.  In 1972, when faced with having to move Royal's offices to accommodate construction of a new convention center and no younger family members interested in carrying on the business after he retired, Stern Bramson sold the company.  He decided to focus his efforts on running Vinecrest Kennel, which he and his wife had purchased a few years earlier.

In 1982, Barry Bingham, Jr., publisher of the Lousiville Courier Journal, purchased the Royal negatives and files that still existed from the company's successor and donated them to the University of Louisville Photographic Archives.  The following year Stern Bramson sold his kennel and volunteered to help organize the Royal Photo Company collection at the Archives.  He continued to work with Photographic Archives, and was assisting  with the organization of aerial photographs until a few months before his death in December, 1989.

Bramson garnered considerable acclaim late in his life when art critics, upon discovering the ironical and whimsical themes in Bramson's images,  began to appreciate his work as fine art photography.  The Photographic Archives produced an exhibition of his work in 1984 which was seen and admired by a diverse group of artists.  Shortly thereafter Bramson's photographs began appearing in publications and advertisements.  In 1987, photo-realist painter John Baeder recommended Bramson's work to the O.K. Harris Gallery in New York.  An exhibition there proved very successful and resulted in requests for wider distribution of a Bramson exhibition and for a limited-edition printing of selected works.  The high point of Stern Bramson's short exhibition career came in the summer of 1989 when he was honored with a showing of his work at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Mr. Bramson donated proceeds from the sale of his prints to the Photographic Archives' exhibitions program.  After his death, the Stern J. Bramson Memorial Fund was established with proceeds from the sale of remaining prints plus donations from family and friends.  The Bramson Fund provides an annual award to a Louisville area high school senior who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in photography.


Carner, Bill  "Stern Bramson and the Royal Photo Company, Louisville, Kentucky" in The History of Photography 19:1 (1996): 50-54.


Stern Bramson

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