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William C. Hedrich (1912-2001)

Dates of Interview:

April 13, 14, 15, 1992

Location of Interview:

Hedrich-Blessing office in Chicago


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

200 pages
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Biographical Summary

William "Bill" Clifford Hedrich was born in 1912 in Chicago into a family of what was to become four brothers, all partners in the family photography business, the Hedrich-Blessing Studio, that specializes in architectural photography. Bill studied at the University of Illinois (1931-32), at the United States Army Motion Picture School in London during World War II, and at the Institute of Design in Chicago from 1945 until 1946. In 1931 Hedrich began working in the Studio as an apprenctice. Over the years he developed into one of the foremost architectural and interior design photographers of his time. Some of his best known photographs are of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, including such landmarks as Fallingwater in Bear Run, Pennsylvania. Hedrich's photographs have been the subject of numerous exhibitions throughout the United States and are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Eastman House, Rochester, New York; the Canadian Center for Architecture, Montreal; the Photography Hall of Fame in Santa Barbara, California; and in the collections of various universities. He was awarded the Gold Medal by the American Institute of Architects in 1967 and elected to the Photography Hall of Fame in 1978. He retired in 1989 to Tucson, Arizona, where he died in 2001.

Interview Highlights

Hedrich speaks about his family and early years; his brother Ken and the founding of Hedrich-Blessing; brother Ed; how he came to join Hedrich-Blessing; the Normandy Inn roundtable; working at the Century of Progress International Exhibition in Chicago; using color film; photographing Frank Lloyd Wright's work; photographing the Chicago skyline at night; moving pictures; London during World War II; study at the Institute of Design; the Oak Ridge project; working for the Saarinens; working for Mies van der Rohe; cameras and film; photographing the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago; Bill's heroes.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater; Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1939.
Photo by William Hedrich; courtesy of Hedrich-Blessing, Signature Collection.

Interview Excerpt

"[For the night shot of the Chrysler Building at the Century of Progress by other photographers] they didn't work that way. They used to just set on center, do a wide lens. It's a commercial shot. That probably wouldn't be as -- what would one say? Ken would look at the sun. Ken probably went back to the Chrysler Building for the day shot more than once to look at it and finally set it up. 'Ah! This is going to be shot at ten-thirty. Let's be on time, set it up for ten o'clock, shoot at ten-thirty.' Kaufmann & Fabry would never have done that. And we were very precise on our lighting, especially on the inside. We never painted with light. Painting with light means you put a black cloth over yourself, hold a light in your hand--maybe two lights--and walk around the room with the light just waving them around. That means there is no delineation of the planes, but it's very clear and there is no shadow. It is shadowless photography. That was so big in 1928, 1929, 1930. We didn't do that. We were light contrasts. We'd talk it over and say, 'Let's remember, our only tools are light and shadow.' And so we'd light things and cross-light and back-light and delineate the planes so they would have really good guts in there and they would stand out. That's terribly important. So you pick up a Hedrich-Blessing photograph -- you would never see a shot like that in the 1930s. Never." (p. 51)

Additional Resources

Hedrich-Blessing images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives
Works related to Hedrich in the Department of Architecture and Design
Oral history of Jack O. Hedrich

Funding for this oral history was provided by The Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Historical Society.