Glorifying the Ziegfeld Follies showgirls as well as actors and actresses from the world of stage and film with a large studio camera and glass plate negatives, the New York City-based photographer, Alfred Cheney Johnston, is celebrated as one of the creators of 20th-century glamor photography.
Famous as the foremost chronicler of feminine beauty of the period, Johnston was born on April 8, 1885, into an affluent New York banking family, which subsequently moved to Mount Vernon, New York. Initially, he studied painting and illustration at the National Academy of Design in New York, but after graduating in 1908, his subsequent efforts to earn a living as a portrait painter did not meet with success. At the suggestion of a longtime family friend and famed illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, Johnston started to employ the camera.
In 1917, Johnston was hired famed New York City live-theatre showman and producer Florenz Ziegfeld as a contracted photographer and was affiliated with the Ziegfeld Follies for the next 15 years. In 1918, he developed a second career as an advertising photographer and became an important figure in the history of male fashion photography with his ad campaign for Dobbs Hats.
Throughout the 1920s, Johnston would be contracted for special production images for motion pictures, most frequently on movies design by his friend and colleague at the Follies, Joseph Urban. At the same time, Johnston privately experimented with color processes. In 1926, his professional colleagues made him a trustee of the New York Camera Club.
In 1930, Johnston became associated with Broadway producer- director, Alexander Leftwich, serving on his production team as art director for the musicals “Dollars Up” and “Daisies Won't Tell”. Johnston incorporated himself on December 3, 1931, and began the direct sales of his nudes to the public, broadened his commercial work, and provided lighting designs credited “Sea Legs” and uncredited for several Broadway productions.
In October of 1934, the Smithsonian Institution exhibited a selection of his portraits which garnered extravagant praise in press. In 1937, Swan Publishing Co. of New York City issued a collection of Johnston nudes, “Enchanting Beauty”. Johnston retire in 1939 to Connecticut. In 1941 he revisited Hollywood, pondering the possibility of studio work but the system did not appeal to him, and he returned East and became an armature.Thirty-two years later, on April 17, 1971, Johnston died in a car crash near his home in Connecticut. Shortly thereafter, in January of 1973, the Library of Congress mounted a memorial exhibition of his portraits