Bill Wood

(1912 - 1973) American


Bill Wood (1912-1973) was born, lived, and died in Fort Worth, Texas. From 1937 until 1970, the Bill Wood Photo Co. supplied amateur photographers with cameras, accessories, and photo finishing, and provided photographic services to local businesses, community groups, and the citizens of Fort Worth.
The photographs that Bill Wood took validated and spread news of his clients' pursuit of "The American Dream." Photography, essential in shaping a national visual culture, played a role on the local level as well. In the mid-twentieth century's hyperactive consumer culture, as visibility and profitability became inextricably linked, Wood's customers needed photographs to advance their lives and good fortune as much as to look backward.
Bill Wood's business wasn't to "express" himself through photography, or to critically document the economic, social, and racial hierarchies at work in Fort Worth. He was hired to make photographs for people whose livelihoods and sense of self-worth demanded continual photographic affirmation and display. His job was to see pictures in, and then extract them from, the ordinariness of everyday life. His talent was to harness photography's inherent and uncanny ability to turn mundane objects and events into something more spectacular, what Susan Sontag described as "everyday life apotheosized."
As a professional responsible for creating images for others, Bill Wood also understood the value of promoting an effective public image for himself. Each photographic print delivered to clients was rubber-stamped with the legend, "Another Picture Took by Bill Wood." His cars were emblazoned with the company name. Radio advertisements for the business featured a catchy jingle. The caricature Wood commissioned of himself became a familiar trademark.
Bill Wood's success spanned more than three decades, proof of his photographic and entrepreneurial talents. But around 1970, Wood was diagnosed with cancer and when he could no longer work, the business was sold. He died in 1973. The Bill Wood Photo Co. closed two years later and its new owners-without Wood's contacts, skills, and reputation-hastily disposed of all of Wood's negatives and prints. Some of them, most importantly a group of approximately 20,000 large-format negatives from the 1950s and 1960s, survived. They were donated to the International Center of Photography by Diane Keaton in 2008.
--Marvin Heiferman and Diane Keaton, introductory wall text to the 2008 ICP exhibition, Bill Wood's Business (edited 2011)
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