The work of Paul Briol, on display in Cincinnati Museum Center's Culture Gallery as part of FOTOFOCUS Cincinnati, comprises an unmatched historical and aesthetic record of Cincinnati. His photographs are valuable not only as a record of what once existed, but also how places familiar to Cincinnatians today appeared decades ago: A bustling Union Terminal, stevedores working on Ohio River steamboats, and old Coney Island.
It is difficult to comprehend the degree of skill Briol possessed. A meticulous technician, Briol produced images almost exclusively working with a tripod-mounted 8 x 10 inch view camera, and often spent hours printing a single photograph to his exact specifications. The finished prints present an extraordinary degree of detail, mastery of light and shadow, and a dramatic sense of composition that characterizes his photographs of 20th century Cincinnati.
Born in Massachusetts in 1889, Paul Briol came to Cincinnati in 1909, working as a journalist and photographer until 1920. During the 1920s he managed The Book Shelf, an unorthodox bookstore that soon attracted Cincinnati’s intelligentsia. After closing The Book Shelf in 1930, Briol opened and operated a photographic studio from 1932 until 1955, when a serious automobile accident forced him to close the business. Briol died in New York City in 1969.
Watch Kip Eagen's video slideshow showing historic Cincinnati photographs by Paul Briol and contemporary re-interpretations by local photographers: