Edward Quigley Self Portrait 1931Edward W. Quigley, 1898-1977
Excerpted from the catalogue “Edward Quigley, American Modernist.”
To his contemporaries in the 1930’s Edward Quigley was a leading art photographer who was well known as an experimentor and innovator, particularly for his light abstractions which were executed in 1931. He exhibited nationally and internationally and was a prominent member of prestigious photography societies, winning accolades and prizes. His work was regularly published in photographic annuals, newspapers and magazines including U.S. Camera and Photographie, and as a salon organizer he personally arranged exhibitions of the work of Edward Weston and Moholy-Nagy. At the same time he was a thoroughly professional advertising photographer for twenty five years in his hometown of Philadelphia. However time and circumstance have conspired to obscure his name until recently when his brilliant work was rediscovered.
Not much is known about Quigley’s early years. In an interview he once indicated that “like all good photographers” he was self taught and had been interested in photography as a young person. He acquired his first camera at twelve, went to work as a professional in 1918, at the age of twenty, though he did not go into business for himself until 1930. He joined the Photographic Society of Philadelphia in 1929. He entered his work regularly in the salons of the period where he garnered accolades. For a photographer trying to establish himself at this time, the best way to get ahead was to compete successfully at the juried salons which brought attention from the press, the prime object. The statistics provided yearly by the American Annual of Photography show that in the thirties Quigley exhibited in sixty eight salons.
While Quigley was known in the Philadelphia art world of his day as a diffident loner who guarded his professional secrets zealously, he did have three one person exhibitions in his lifetime, the first in 1932 at the Philadelphia Art Alliance Photographic Salon where he debuted his unusual light abstractions which came about after what the artist claimed were “fifteen years of experimenting with light.” Reviewers were impressed. “With the aid of prisms and lens, he has obtained some startling effects, closely akin to painting in the completeness of their whirling arcs, linear patterns, or cubistic masses.” When questioned as to technique, Quigley, aiming for an air of mystery, shied away from ever answering directly.
In 1934, Quigley participated in the First Salon of Pure Photography in San Francisco (Weston, Adams and Van Dyke the judges) and had a one person show at the Delphic Studios; he also took part, along with the greatest American modernist photographers (Bourke-White, Steiglitz, Steichen and Weston etc.), in a group exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He told an interviewer: “the nearest approach to what I am trying to develop is the photogram of Europe…. and also used by Man Ray, who works directly on paper without a negative.” Quigley indicated that he sometimes used two negatives. “On the first… you get the main pattern; on the second you develop vibration.”
In the late thirties Quigley turned more to advertising photography and article writing. He was the chairman of the Art Alliance’s Photographic Salon committee but by the fifties efforts to find work were hurt by a bad market and ill health which made it impossible for him to photograph or write. Selling reproduction rights locally earned him a small income through the sixties and at the end of his life he was a recluse without family living in Haddonfield, NJ.
A significant development in Quigley’s resurgence occurred in the seventies when Sam Wagstaff visited him and acquired 50 to 100 prints; ten going to the Getty and two to MOMA. Four light abstractions were loaned to a show at the Franklin Institute Science Museum. Photographs by Edward Quigley are now in the permant collections of The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The National Museum of American History, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Detroit Institute of the Arts, The Hallmark Cards Collection, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.