The September 1940 issue of Everyday Photography features an article on "Philip Brigandi - Stereo Wizard" describing his 40-year career as a photographer. Perhaps his chief wizardry, though, was that as late as 1940 Brigandi continued to make a living from stereo photography - primarily through his work with the Keystone View Company.
Born in Messina, Sicily on February 19, 1873, Brigandi moved with his parents to Alexandria, Egypt at the age of seven months. Raised and educated in an Italian language school there, he showed promise as an artist at an early age.
In 1888, however - when he was 15 - Brigandi turned to another form of art: fencing. After three years of study he enlisted in the Italian Army, "..in order to master in the thorough way the art of fencing." He also studied at the Academia National di Scherma in Naples, one of the two schools in Italy that could confer the degree of Fencing master, which he received September 22, 1894.
Brigandi's skill as a fencer brought him to America soon after, for a job awaiting him at the New york Athletic Club. He arrived in new York city October 18, 1894.
In 1896 he moved upstate, to Ithaca, New York, and for the next few years taught fencing at Cornell University and several surrounding schools. It was during this time that Brigandi first tried his hand at photography. The earliest surviving photographs take by him are several views around ithaca, dated June 1900 and signed "P. Brigandi, Amateur."
It was around this time that a traveling stereoscopic view salesman, possibly from the Underwood and Underwood Company, suggested that he too could sell cards during the summers to make a little extra money. By 1903 Brigandi had decided to leave ithaca and make his living in photography.
In 1904 he married Maud Saph (1872-1956), whom he had met in Ithaca in the late 90s. The couple settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where both their sons, Philip Edwin (1906-1956) and Karl (1910-1958), were born.
Pittsburgh City directories suggest that fencing still paid most of the bills in the Brigandi household. In 1908 and 1909 he is listed as a fencing master - perhaps giving private lessons - and it is not until 1910 that his new career is listed: "Photographer."
In 1913 the Brigandis headed west for California, settling first in Los Angeles and then in Hollywood. Brigandi did his first work for Keystone about this time - primarily sales work, it would seem. he also published views independently, as the Stereo-Sales Company. There included the first of the scores of views of California he would later publish. A set of at least 230 views would be published as The California Missions and the State of California.
According to his 1940 interview in Everyday Photography:
In covering California he first made a survey of the scenes he wished to photograph. This was to study the conditions necessary for ideal lighting... Once Brigandi had ascertained the various photographic conditions he shot the state from every pictorial angle - its people, industries and history... Carefully and painstakingly, Brigandi transferred California to sets of stereoscopic picture files.
Another California project - this time for Keystone - was to photograph the dual Panama-Pacific International Expositions in San Diego and San Francisco in 1915. At least 125 of these views were published by Keystone, many in a special boxed set.
Brigandi's next assignment for keystone was more elaborate. Late in January, 1919 he set sail for Europe to photograph the historic cities and battlefields of the just-ended First World War, and the Peace Conference activities at Versailles. He was also to secure negatives of the war by other photographers for Keystone to publish.
His three-fold assignment, the hectic conditions in postwar Europe, and poor photographic conditions kept Brigandi busy during his ten-month stay. Keystone called him back in September, but with financial help from new acquaintances in governmental circles (most notably the glamorous Queen Marie of Romania) he was able to extend his stay into winter. The over 1,000 negatives produced on this trip remain in the Keystone-Mast Collection.
Back in Hollywood in 1920, Brigandi found his old skills as a fencer in demand, both in the emerging motion picture industry and among the growing number of wealthy families the industry was generating. He build a fencing studio over the garage of his new home at 1626 N. Hobart Street, where he opened the Hollywood Fencing Academy. His other career was not neglected, however - there was a darkroom over the garage as well. From there Brigandi could continue his free-lance career, including something new: full-sized stereoscopic color transparencies, made on Lumiere Autochrome plates brought from France. Brigandi also continued to sell Keystone views and corresponded with Keystone President B.L. Singley, who was working on a new plan.
In April 1925 Singley visited the Brigandis in California and offered a three-year contract as a full-time photographer for the Keystone View Company. In addition, Singley negotiated a separate deal to purchase several hundred of Brigandi's California negatives.
n June 1925 he began an extensive photographic trip across the United States, ending in Meadville, Pennsylvania, the headquarters of the Keystone View Company and the new home for the Brigandi family. He would make photographic trips throughout the East Coast in the next few years.
While in Meadville, Brigandi worked at sorting through and discarding negatives from Keystone's massive files, under Singley's orders and to his distress. "I thought I was hired to take pictures, not destroy them!" he complained to his family.
Brigandi's contract was renewed in 1928 and again in 1929. In 1930 he made his last major photographic expedition, spending several months in Mexico. The trip was jointly financed by Keystone and Brigandi, who produced two sets of negatives, with keystone's permission, so that he could market them privately back in his home state of California.
After that, Brigandi again had time for freelance work. He produced and marketed sets of California views, including the 150th Anniversary of the Founding of Los Angeles in 1931, the Tenth Olympiad there the following year, and the annual Santa Barbara Fiesta, along with his still-popular California Missions set.
The last Brigandi photographs entered into the Keystone ledgers are a series of view of Sequoia national Park in 1934. After that, his involvement with the company was strictly through sales.
In 1940 Frank Cunningham from Everyday Photography described Brigandi as "...one of America's best-known and foremost authorities on stereoscopic photography... Today, a gray-haired, alert progressive," he wrote, "Philip Brigandi lives in Los Angeles, where he carries on his background of stereoscopic photography in corrective eye work for educational institutions and industries."
"..Stereoscopic photography is today and important field in photography," Brigandi told him. "Although the pictures have changed from funny pictures and stock scenes once enjoyed as n after-dinner sport in the parlor, this type of picture-taking is increasingly valuable in educational work and in scientific research."
But Brigandi, already 67, was near the end of his career; within a few years, declining health would force him to retire. He died August 12, 1945 at the age of 72 and is buried in a family plot in Hollywood Cemetery.
A few years later a fire swept through his darkroom, incinerating nitrate negatives and cracking glass plates. The bulk of his surviving work - thousands of negatives - is in the Keystone-Mast Collection.
Phillip Brigandi is the great-grandson of Philip Brigandi