Koch portrait

The Poetry of Felix J. Koch Exhibition

By: Jim DaMico, Curator of the Audiovisual Collection

Cincinnati Museum Center's Cincinnati History Library and Archives holds the Felix J. Koch Collection (SC 116). This treasure trove of 5,238 negatives document Cincinnati and the surrounding area between 1902 and 1933. The collection, which was donated by Felix's brother, Herbert F. Koch in 1968 and 1969, is arranged by subject.

Cincinnati native Felix John Koch (1882-1933) was born on January 15, 1882 to Gustav J. Koch and Eugenie Sarran Koch. While he was attending Walnut Hills High School, he began writing for the Cincinnati Times-Star on “local beauty spots and places of character.” After graduating from the University of Cincinnati in 1904, he embarked on a trip to the Balkan Peninsula, the first of many world-wide trips. In the Western Hemisphere, Koch traveled far and wide, from Northern Labrador and Newfoundland to Panama, documenting in words and pictures the sights, peoples and customs of the regions he traveled. Koch’s wanderlust, incredible eye and gift for writing earned him the nickname “The Queer Corners Man”. This moniker stuck and he used it on his stationary.

Beginnings in Cincinnati

In 1906 he started his career as a freelance photographer taking over 5,000 photographs of the greater Cincinnati area. His subjects include floods, amusements, sports, children, etc. During World War 1 he was the official War Department photographer for the Cincinnati area documenting American homeland war activities such as bond drives in Cincinnati. Out this came the book Cincinnati Sees It Thru; The Camera's Story of How the Great World War Came to the Queen of the West. Koch and his trusty camera also travelled to document such events as the Scopes Monkey Trial and the coronation of King George V. Koch’s writing and photographs were published extensively in such diverse publications as National Geographic, The Crisis, The American Journal of Nursing and The Plant World.

The 2016 Exhibition: The Poetry of Felix J. Koch

This exhibition was collaboration between the Cincinnati History Library and Archives' Department of Photographs and Prints, Word Play and Chase Public. It came about as a way to engage high school students from Word Play's teen program and to develop stronger ties between the community and the Cincinnati History Library and Archives rich historical resources.

The goals of the project were to help nurture the student’s creativity through writing and performance as well as connecting with the past through the visual poetry of Cincinnati native Felix J. Koch.

The teens were asked to pick a series of images and to write a poem for each image selected based on a series of visual literacy questions, their own reflection of the images, and the question of what lies behind or beyond the camera lens. The photographs that are displayed in the exhibition represent not only the choices the students made but also document the places and people personally encountered by Koch, giving the photographs a more intimate and engaged feeling as Koch may have known a good many of the kids that he photographed.

The Poetry of Felix J. Koch also featured an exhibition within the exhibition called “Photographing the Poem,” curated by Kip Eagen. Four teens from Word Play composed poems that local photographers will be challenged to visually interpret in three images.

Title: "Hearne Avenue, Avondale, May 1916"

Title: "Celtic Dance at May Day Celebration May 1921"

Title: "Walnut Hills, January 2, 1921"

Title: "Felix Koch on Porch of Craven's Boarding House, Clifton Ave., Sept. 1922"

Posted in Ethnology, History objects and fine art, Photograph and Print.