Alfred Cheney Johnston was the son of a banker born in the late 1800s. He
attended the National Academy of Design in New York City studying
illustration and painting. Alfred was known for embellishing stories about
his life but the facts reveal the following events. After he graduated in
1908, he married classmate Doris Gernon. She helped Alfred by retouching his
glass plates and prints. Johnstons ambition to become a portrait painter did
not bode well for him and he decided to concentrate on photographic
portraiture. He was familiar with photographic technique since he used the
camera to photograph his subjects which he would later paint.
Alfred Cheney Johnston worked for Sarony Studio as a retoucher and
photographer. Alfred experimented with portrait photography and incorporated
his knowledge of illustration to make a style uniquely his own. His
portraits were shown to Florenz Ziegfeld who was responsible for creating the
Ziegfeld Follies. Alfred photographed the Ziegfeld Girls from 1915 to 1929.
Alfred's portraits of the Ziegfeld Follie Girls and of Florenez's wife Billy
Burke were published in "Vanity Fair". This catapulted Alfred into the
limelight. He was very busy photographing the Ziefeld Girls, movie stars and
society woman who found it daring and fashionable to be photographed .
The stock market crash of 1929 ended his association with the Follies.
Florenz Ziegfeld died a few years later broke. Alfred Cheney Johnston and
his wife moved out of New York and tried to revive his career but it never
materialized. During these years, Alfred didn't matter anymore. The United
States was in financial ruin and people cared more about finding their next
meal by selling pencils and apples than art. A great book which has a few
chapters incorporated into it regarding the Stock Store Crash of 1929 is
"The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great
American Dust Bowl" by Timothy Egan. It is mostly a story of the Great
American Dust Bowl which is frightening enough by itself but the dynamics
of The Great Depression and how it affected society is laid out nicely in the
For 24 years Alfred Cheney Johnston had access to some of the most
beautiful woman in America. His photographs captured the hearts of
admiring men and woman alike during at time when America was prospering
and glamour was pervasive throughout society. His work was published in
many important magazines of the day such as "Motion Picture Classic",
"Alfred Cheney Johnston Photoplay", "Shadowland", "The Theatre" and of course "Vanity Fair".
As a photographer, Alfred had one great sin, he was as a commercial
photographer. This may have been the reason that master photographer Edward
Steichen, then the Director of the Museum of Modern Art's Photography
Department, would not allow the inclusion of Alfred Cheney Johnston's
work. But snobbery can never stifle genius no matter how hard it tries. It
took many years before the public would notice Alfred Cheney Johnston's work
again. Thanks to a resurgence in silent film stars, studio photographers of
the 1920s and 1930s are finally being recognized for their contribution to the
This page contains mostly Ziegfeld Follies stars. Some of the models are
society woman who are given away by their age.