Derelys Perdue, photo by Albert J. Kopec.
While some motion picture stills photographers are renowned for their work, such as George Hurrell, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Ernest Bachrach, and Ruth Harriet Louise, others are largely forgotten today, seeming to disappear into the mists of time decades ago. Such is the case with Albert J. Kopec and George Cannons, two of Mack Sennett’s stills photographers. Neither as famous or perhaps as talented as Nelson Evans or James Abbé in their day, the two immigrants created some beautiful work and displayed a wide range of photographic skill throughout their careers, revealing strong compositional eyes.
Forgotten Man Kopec worked for over six decades as a photographer, but seldom appears in any book or article on stills photographers. Working as a second unit man for comedy producer Mack Sennett meant little opportunity for shooting full out glamour shots, the images widely shared by magazines and newspapers.
Born April 1, 1896 in Poland, either Huta-Kolbasyawa or Majdan Stolbuygawa, both listed on official documents, Kopec quickly realized that North America offered more opportunity than Polish farming communities. He arrived May 28, 1913 in Chicago, Illnois, joining Polish associations and dance societies. Kopec signed up with the United States Army during the Great War, serving as a private beginning December 1, 1917. On his application, the young Polish immigrant listed photography as his occupation. Thanks to his service, Kopec officially became a naturalized citizen on December 16, 1919
In 1919, Kopec served as an official Mack Sennett photographer in Los Angeles, where he took candids and off-camera shots, along with occasional portraits. Many of these shots show studio contract players on the lot or posing throughout the city. He wrote a letter published in the magazine, “The Neighbor,” that year, describing how he missed Community Dances in Union Hall, though he attended the National College of Dancing, serving both as an instructor and giving private lessons. He wrote, “I am working with the Mack Sennett Moving Picture Company and the work is very interesting. I am a photographer, but later I may be an actor.” He hoped to stay in California.
Fan magazines displayed his work, like this striking portrait of actress Derelys Perdue almost in flight, painted by Harry Roseland for a 1922 issue of Shadowland magazine. The 1923 Los Angeles City Directory lists him as an aerial photographer, though he freelanced in many positions to better his skills. Architecture and construction journals like Architectural Forum, Art and Architecture, and Concrete featured images, as did the mid-1920s Los Angeles Times, where Kopec shot art exhibition entries reproduced in the newspaper. He operated a studio at 520 S. Broadway, room 209, per the 1925 city directory.
Kopec remained active in the Southern California Polish community, donating a loving cup for the 1925 Young Polish People’s Society Ball, and donated money to help construct a monument honoring Helen Modjeska in Orange County. Kopec probably met his wife Stella in activities with the group, and they married June 17, 1926 at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral.
Dolores del Rio, photographed by George F. Cannons.
By 1929, however, Kopec began flying on the Goodyear blimp Independence, providing dramatic overhead shots around Los Angeles for various local news or photograph organizations. The August 27, 1929 Los Angeles Times printed one of his images showing the Graf Zeppelin docked in Los Angeles. In 1932, Kopec himself printed real photo and linen postcards from overhead shots he captured of the Olympic village and the Coliseum. The Los Angeles Times reproduced several of his images, and in 1934, Kopec’s magnificent image of Griffith Observatory under construction was sent out over the wires by Acme Photos for use throughout the country. The by-line states, “Photo made by Albert Kopec from the Goodyear blimp Volunteer shows the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. When completed, a Zeiss Planetarium will be installed beneath the huge dome of the observatory. The remarkable instrument will project a replica of the passage of the stars, sun and moon against the interior of the edifice, thus affording an intimate and speedy study of the celestial bodies.”
The Kopecs constantly moved around the city, jumping from Sixth Street to Rimpau Boulevard, from Avenue 52 to Avenue 30 as Albert juggled regular portrait photography work with aerial shots for companies like Fairchild Aerial Survey. Hedied December 31, 1982, with burial at the Federal Cemetery at Riverside. Though seldom shooting glamorous images of stars, Kopec made glorious shots of booming Los Angeles, a stunning beauty herself.
Born July 8, 1897 in Salisbury, England, George Frederic Cannons worked as a medical photographer in England before deciding to immigrate to North America. He arrived July 19, 1920 in Quebec, noting he was looking for a photography position and that he intended to remain in Canada. By 1923, however, Cannons entered America.
A postcard of the Olympic Village, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Cannons began serving as Sennett’s top studio stills photographer in 1924, taking portraits and scene stills, also serving as the new cheesecake photographer for the Sennett Bathing Beauties. While his portraits are not as gorgeously lit or romantic as James Abbé’s, his still work captures dreamy, languid looks at gorgeous actresses. Cannons later served as a Sennett art director.
In 1929, Cannons operated a studio at 8165 Sunset Blvd. while he attempted to design nightclub sets. The July 25, 1928, Los Angeles Times called him a “former art supervisor at Mack Sennett,” noting he served as the new art director for Hollywood’s Pom Pom Café, designing futuristic panels, Spanish archways, and pastoral screens, for “a series of especially posed girl portraits which will be entered in exhibit at the New York Art Institute and Regent Galleries in London.” Cannons also worked with club producer William Meiklejohn to hire bathing beauties for the Café’s new musical revue—“an elaborate Palm Beach number” with chorus girls posing in “startling bathing costumes” forecasting next summer’s fashions.
Virginia Whiting, photographed by George Cannons.
Per the February 10, 1933, Hollywood Reporter, Cannons and family returned to London, where he opened a photography studio. Proud of his Hollywood background and work, Cannons credited himself as “Cannons of Hollywood.” For the next several years, Cannons shot society, dance, and theatrical portraits in the American style, before returning to studio stills work as work ran dry. The August 9, 1941 Motion Picture Herald lists him serving as stillsman for the British film, “Hi Gang,” based on the radio show starring Bebe Daniels, Ben Lyon, and Victor Oliver. He also worked in Bill Batchelor’s publicity department. In 1943, he shot stills at Rank Studios, where he began working for the great British producer/directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger under the name George Cannon. He shot color images of Jean Simmons for the Archers’ production of “Black Narcissus,” employed as publicity in film journals. Cannons served as principal stills photographer on “The Red Shoes,” shooting iconic images of Moira Shearer madly dancing during the ballet sequence. Cannons passed away June 1970 in England. While he continued fine studio and still work in England, Cannons disappeared from Hollywood photography books, save for brief mentions in Brent Walker’s “Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory,” and David S. Shields’ “Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography.”
While perhaps not as serious artists as Hurrell, Bachrach, and the like, Kopec and Cannons created diverse and large bodies of work, demonstrating great photographic skills for which they should be remembered.