JAMES W. KENT
Photographer of Brooklyn and East Marion
James W. Kent was born in 1863 in Brooklyn. He lived there and in East Marion until his death in 1961. Kent, a well-regarded businessman in Brooklyn, founded the Kent Machine Works in 1890. The company made machinery for the paint, ink, and chemical manufacturing industries.
Although an amateur, Kent seems to have approached photography with the same sense of purpose he brought to his business. His artistic sense and skill in the darkroom were very much on a professional level. Kent was influenced by the most significant contemporary photographers of the day and particularly by the seminal publication Camera Work. The earliest of his photographs in the Oysterponds Historical Society collection date from just after 1900.
Kent was a pictorialist – a photographer who aimed to create painterly effects with a camera. The foreword to the catalog of the 1909 Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences photography exhibition clearly states: “The work shown is strictly pictorial…[the] aim is to advance only the pictorial or art side of the camera and the lens.” Kent was among the exhibitors that year. Undoubtedly the fact that Kent manufactured machinery for mixing inks led him to the printing process known as bromoil – his choice for creating painterly effects. In an article at the time of an 1986 exhibition of Kent’s work, Harvey Weber described the difficult and complicated bromoil process as follows:
A bromoil print is essentially an image made up of greasy inks rather than a metal. After the image has been exposed on a paper coated with a soft emulsion, it is developed in a low-contrast developer. Fixed, washed, bleached out and rewashed, it is now ready for the ink. ‘Inking-up’ consisted of daubing the greasy inks over the surface with a special flat-bristle brush, held vertically, the inks absorbed proportionately by the shadow and middle tones but not by the highlight areas. The skill lay in manipulating the inks, as density and contrast were built up by repeated applications.
James Kent’s two nieces, Jean and Ruth Schneider, also lived in East Marion, and it is thanks to them that the Oysterponds Historical Society has this fine collection.
A sample from the exhibition