Photograph by Robert Cameron Photograph by Robert Cameron

Photographing Louis Armstrong in 1941

Given free-reign to move around on stage during the performance, Robert Cameron used a 4×5” press camera — fitted with a slow burning flash unit — to make his exposures. Since it was fairly dark inside the St. Louis club, he had to focus by estimating the camera distance from the subject. The opening of the lens determined the amount of exposure the film would receive. Each exposure was made on a single sheet of 4×5” film.

When Cameron later showed the jazz legend a portrait of him improvising on stage with saliva dripping down his chin, Armstrong said to him,

“This is the best picture ever taken of me actually playing. All them others are of me just holding the trumpet up to my lips.”

A Debut — 74 Years in-the-making

ArtSpan’s annual Open Studios event at Dickerman Prints marks the first time in 74 years that the entire collection of photographs from that evening are being presented in contact sheet form, at the same size as the negatives.

Together, the collection offers a timeless glimpse into the music scene of a bygone era. Concurrently, it shows Armstrong doing what he was born to do: practicing an original art form that grew out of the African experience in America.

According to Tim Hall, proprietor of the photographic estate of Robert Cameron,

“The historical significance of these images has never escaped me, but it is only recently that I have had the time to do these photographs justice. As each exposure was radically different from one another, I had to work rather diligently to ensure that the groups of photos would reproduce uniformly.”


Robert Cameron (April 21, 1911 – November 10, 2009) was a famed American photographer and author of numerous books featuring aerial photographs of cities throughout the globe.

His career began as a photographic journalist for the Des Moines Register in 193. During the Second World War he worked as a photographer for the United States Department of War. He founded the publishing company Cameron and Company in 1964 with the publication of The Drinking Man’s Diet, which went on to sell over 2.4 million copies worldwide in 13 different languages.

bio source: wikipedia