Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What's in a Name?

It's not often that I get more mileage out of the same find, but the cache of photographs I found of Shirley White proved even more interesting when I began researching the photographer who took them.

Signed in two distinct styles, "Maurice" was both the name of the studio and the two brothers who ran it. Well, sort of.

The brothers, born Moise and Simche Zeldman were born in Russia in 1900 and 1902 respectively. They emigrated to the United States in 1920 and began working at Bloom's Studios in the State-Lake Building in Chicago. 

Bloom Photographers Business Card

The State-Lake Building

During this time, they decided to Americanize their names with Moise adopting "Maurice" and Simche "Seymour".  Eventually they opened their own studio in the Hotel St. Clair in 1929 under the name Maurice Seymour. 

Hotel St. Clair, Chicago

The Sky Tavern.  I wonder if Shirley performed here.

To alleviate confusion among both vendors and customers, Moise legally changed his name to Maurice Seymour and Simche took the odd name of Seymour Seymour.

Their big break came when Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll (radio's Amos 'n Andy) spied their work in the window of the Lake Shore National Bank and insisted they take their publicity stills.  Because of their talent and fluency in Russian, they became the photographers of choice for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo when they came to Chicago as many of the dancers spoke only Russian. The brothers are best known for their photography of ballet and their works are collected in two volumes "Seymour on Ballet" and "Ballet Portraits".  Aside from their signatures, their use of lighting and sterile white backgrounds is perhaps the most recognizable features in their photographs. In addition to ballet artists, the brothers were known for photographing everyone from politicians to burlesque dancers (one presumes not at the same session!).  

Gypsy Rose Lee

Just in case you think Maurice and Seymour only filmed beautiful women, I'll throw a couple in as a visual sorbet.

We now return you to pretty girls.

In 1950, Simche/Seymour Zeldman/Seymour moved to New York City and opened his own studio, leaving Moise/Maurice back in Chicago.  To add further to the confusion, once there Seymour legally changed his name also to Maurice Seymour.

The best I've been able to discern is New York Maurice Seymour's photographs can be identified by the signature with the flourish, while Chicago Maurice Seymour signed with the straight-lined, almost Art Deco signature.

Both Maurice Seymours closed their studios in the 1970's.  Moise Zeldman passed away in 1993.  His son Ron Seymour continues the family business and is the keeper of his father's and uncle's legacy, if not their negatives; most have been lost over the years.  Simche Zeldman passed just two years after his brother in 1995.

If you want a good sampling of their work, image google "Maurice Seymour", but be prepared (and perhaps even warned) for some "eye-popping" shots.


  1. totally fascinating -- and what incredible photographs!

  2. The brother in the New York studio placed a lower case n.y. beneath the "ur" of Seymour. I own a few portraits taken by Seymour Zeldman (the NY studio) of my grand-aunts.


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