Fred Holland Day (1864-1933) was a typical representative of the fin de siècle, a true dandy with a refined taste in art and a profound love for photography, art and literature. Besides his profession as photographer, Day also deployed his talents in other fields: first as publisher and later as an impassioned mentor of underprivileged children in Boston.
It was in the 1880s that Day became interested in photography. Like the so-called Pictorialist group, he felt that photography was an art form too. Day even photographed religious subjects which had until then been the sole province of painters and sculptors. His careful approach, thorough preparation and poetic symbolism, enhanced by the subtle prints, became a source of inspiration for contemporaries and subsequent generations.
A remarkable section of Day's oeuvre comprises his photographs of naked boys. Although these were generally admired within the context of symbolist themes, they were also popular for their unmistakable sultry sensuality.
By the turn of the century, Day had become one of the leading photographers of his age, with work exhibited in Europe and America. His photographs are on a par both technically and artistically with those of famous contemporaries such as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen.
Following a devastating fire at his studio in 1904, Day travelled with a new camera to Virginia to photograph the students at Hampton Institute, one of the United States' first African-American schools. These photographs are imbued with an extraordinary spontaneity and optimism, and are far removed from the heavily symbolic photographs of his early years. From 1904 his portraits began to show a fresh, upbeat immediacy and joie de vivre, not least the photographs that he took at Little Good Harbor, the estate he purchased in 1909.
Day became ill and virtually stopped photographing in 1916, being almost permanently confined to his bed until his death in 1933. Shortly before he died he donated his collection of some seven hundred photographs to the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Along with the prints acquired through Frederick Evans by the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, these form the basis for the present retrospective, restoring Day to his rightful place in the history of photography.