Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Portrait of Alexander Culet, Great Neck Photographer

cu·let  kyü-lə(noun) - The small flat face at the bottom of a gem cut as a brilliant.

Photograph  of Culet photography studio, ca. 1930. Note the gas street lamp above the auto on the left.

This is what we know about Alexander Eugene Culet, according to the U.S. Census.  He was born in France and was 29 years old in 1920.  His photography business, and possibly his home, were in a small building on the east side of Middle Neck Road, opposite St. Aloysius Church.  Despite the fact that we know so little about Mr. Culet, one thing is certain: he was a very good photographer.  Alexander Culet took photos which were used on numerous postcards showing prominent Great Neck homes.  These postcards may actually have been produced by Mr. Culet in his Great Neck studio.
Hand drawn map by Mills P. Baker, from his book,
Breezy Hill: The Baker Farm, showing the Culet
studio (red asterisk), next to the O'Connell Saloon.

An example of Culet’s work is shown in the postcard below, recently acquired by the Library’s Local History Collection.  We are unsure where this image was taken - presumably at an estate or location called "The Oaks."  A home can be seen in the background of this image, behind the bushes.  This new postcard was purchased with funds donated in memory of librarian Risha Rosner.

The Oak’s, Great Neck, L. I.
Postcard photo by Alexander Culet.

Judging from their style, Culet's cards were printed in the “golden age of postcards," sometime between 1907 and 1915, when postcard collecting was all the rage.  The postcard images of this era offer some of the most beautiful photography of the period, and Culet's cards are no exception.   Many postcards created during this time were actual photographs - developed photo images on photographic paper - as opposed to pixelated images made in ink on a printing press.
Pergola C. Proctor, Great Neck, L. I. Postcard photo by Alexander Culet.
In 1906 Kodak came out with the Folding Pocket Camera.  Negatives were the same size as postcards.  Culet's postcard photographs were likely produced with this particular Kodak camera, as the hand lettering on his cards suggests.  A small metal tool, provided with the camera, allowed the photographer to write directly on the image.

Another of Culet’s postcards in the Library’s collection shows a distant view of the Bayview Avenue Bridge as seen from Nirvana, the estate of William Gould Brokaw.
The Bridge from Brokaw’s, Great Neck, L.I.
Postcard photo by  Alexander Culet.