Digital Commonwealth

Leon Abdalian Collection

Boston Public Library

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The photographer Leon Hampartzoum Abdalian was born in Cilician Armenia, Ottoman Empire (now Turkey), circa 1884. He moved with his family to the United States in April of 1896 and eventually settled in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.

It is not known if Abdalian had any formal training as a photographer but it is believed that he was largely self-taught. For most of his career as a photographer, which lasted from 1913 into the 1960s, he also worked full-time as a conductor on the Boston Elevated Railroad.

Leon Abdalian was primarily a large-format photographer, specializing in photographing historical sites and the park system. For this work he would typically use either a 6 1/2 inch x 8 1/2 inch or 8 x 10 inch view camera, although he did produce a series of photographs using an 11 x 14 inch camera. Although Abdalian took a straightforward documentary approach to most of his photography, he would tone his prints for different effect and would sometimes print them with an oval or shaped border. He also had a long-term collaboration with a local colorist, George A. Braun, producing a set of delicately hand-colored versions of his black and white photographs. He also devised a technique of "spliced" photographs which allowed him to expose a single negative with the same person in two or more poses using a cardboard mask with removable slots.

Locally, his photographs were published in the Boston Globe, Boston Traveler, and Boston Herald newspapers. In 1930, during the Massachusetts Tercentenary celebration, the Boston Daily Record hired Abdalian as the "Photographer of Historic Shrines" and published a series of his photographs of historic monuments and buildings. Abdalian also had photographs published in "The National Geographic Magazine" in March of 1920 as part of an article on business in Massachusetts.

Leon Abdalian retired as a conductor in 1951 but continued his career as a photographer into the 1960s almost to the year of his death in 1967. After his death, the Boston Public Library acquired approximately 500 of his negatives from his daughter, Lillian A. Clough. The remainder of his personal collection was given to the Boston Public Library in 2003, a generous gift from the Estate of Arnold P. and Lillian A. Clough.

Note: These images represent only a portion of the total collection.

Critical funding to support long-term preservation of and enhanced public access to Boston Public Library collections, including this one, was provided by the Associates of the Boston Public Library.

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