Adler's Pynson Printers Photographed by Ralph Steiner

Born in Rochester N.Y., Elmer Adler (1884-1962) reluctantly joined the family clothing business as advertising manager and designer. In his spare time, he collected books and taught himself the importance of great typography, paper, and binding. In 1920, the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery opened an exhibition entitled “The History of the Art of Printing,” curated by Adler primarily from his own collection (catalogue available full-text on google).

Less than two years later, Adler packed up his books and moved to New York City where he organized a printing company of his own, The Pynson Printers. As a long-time member of The Stowaways, a private club for men involved in graphic arts, he was already acquainted to many of the leading printers and publishers in New York. His friend Arthur Hays Sulzberger (1891-1968), son-in-law and heir to the publisher of The New York Times, invited Adler to move the business into the spacious new Times Annex at 229 West 43rd street. Adler’s rooms consisted of a printing shop with three presses, a library, an exhibition gallery (opened to the public in 1938), and offices elegant enough to hold afternoons teas for his colleagues. He was proud to say “in the eighteen years of its existence Pynson Printers charged more than any other shop in the country and never made a profit.”

These photographs of Adler’s rooms at 43rd Street were taken by Ralph Steiner (1899-1986). The year Adler moved to NYC, Steiner had graduated from Dartmouth and was finishing an extra year studying at the Clarence White School of Photography. Steiner got a job making photogravure plates at the Manhattan Photogravure Company, until he had enough commissions to work as a freelance advertising photographer.

It is no wonder Adler chose Steiner. Considered one of the best modern art photographers of the period, Steiner worked primarily in advertising photography, in a precisionist style. Adler thought so much of Steiner’s work that he gave the artist an exhibition in the Pynson gallery in 1930.

Steiner began moving into film in the late 1920s, first with the avant-garde short H2O edited by Aaron Copeland (available through the media lab or online through Youtube. This was followed by Redes/The Waves with Paul Strand; Pie in the Sky with Elia Kazan; and The Plow that Broke the Plains with Strand and Pare Lorentz. Two years later, Steiner and Willard Van Dyke founded American Documentary Films and collaborated on The City, shown to acclaim at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

In 1940, Adler and Steiner both left New York; Adler for Princeton University and Steiner for Hollywood.