[Distortograph: William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson, Mayor of Chicago]

Herbert George Ponting (British, Salisbury, Wiltshire 1870–1935 London)

Person in Photograph:
William Hale Thompson (American, 1869–1944)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9.8 x 7.3 cm (3 7/8 x 2 7/8 in.) Sheet: 16.3 x 11.9 cm (6 7/16 x 4 11/16 in.) Frame: 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.) (Framed with 2011.206, .207, .209)
Credit Line:
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2011
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Best known for his dramatic photographs of the South Pole, Ponting was also an inveterate tinkerer. In 1927 he patented a lens attachment he dubbed the “variable controllable distortograph,” describing it as “a revolutionary optical system for photographing in caricature or distortion.” With his patent application, he submitted these caricatures of the flamboyantly corrupt mayor of Chicago William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson, known for his protection of the gangster Al Capone and for colorful campaign stunts, such as staging a mayoral debate with two live rats as his opponents.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Inscribed in pencil, verso BL to BR: "Big Bill thompson, Mayor of Chicago"; and BR: "II"; stamped, verso TC: "CAMERA CARICATURE // BY // Herbert G. Ponting, F.R.P.S."; stamped, verso C: "HERBERT G. PONTING, // COPYRIGHT [crossed out]"; stamped, verso BC [with a border]: "PHOTO SUPPLIED BY // PAUL POPPER, // FURNIVAL HOUSE, 14–18 HIGH HOLBORN. // LONDON, W.C.1. // TO WHOM PAYMENTS ARE TO // BE MADE AND TWO VOUCHER COPIES SENT."

  • Provenance

    [Keith de Lellis Gallery, New York, NY]