Otto Pfenninger - Brighton Photographer

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Otto Pfenninger (1855-1929)

 Brighton Studio Photographer and Pioneer of Colour Photography

[ABOVE] A carte-de-visite portrait of  a middle-aged man by "O. P. Suisse", from the studio of Lombardi & Co., 79 West Street, Brighton (c1902). Otto Pfenninger adopted the pseudonym of "O. P. Suisse" from around 1898 when he took over the running of Lombardi & Co.'s studio in West Street, Brighton.

[ABOVE] A carte-de-visite portrait of  a child by "O. P. Suisse", from the studio of Lombardi & Co., 79 West Street, Brighton (c1899). Negative No. 982462.2. The reverse of this carte-de-visite portrait carries the written inscription "By the hair, I reckon it's W. A. J. Wheatley". William Arthur John Wheatley was born at Hurstpierpoint, Sussex during the Third Quarter of 1895.


Otto Pfenninger was born in Switzerland in 1855. (The birth of a child named Otto Pfenninger, the son of Hans Konrad Pfenninger and Anna Schnorf was recorded at Hinwil in the canton of Zurich in Switzerland on 5th April 1855, but this might be a Swiss child with an identical name). Pfenninger's connection with England was established in 1883, when he married Sophia Loose (born 1859, Catthorpe, Leicestershire) at Horsham in Sussex. Sophia Loose was born in Leicestershire on 28th May 1859, the daughter of Eliza and James Loose. Sophia's father, James Loose, was born in 1831 at Doveridge, Derbyshire, but settled in Surrey, where he married his wife Eliza (born c1833, Shirley, Surrey). At the time of the 1881 census, James Loose was residing with his wife, Eliza and their youngest daughter Dinah in the Surrey village of Burstow, where James Loose worked as a gardener. Sophia Loose, James and Eliza's twenty-one year old daughter does not appear in the index of the 1881 British census and therefore was possibly living abroad, where she may have met the twenty-six year old Swiss photographer Otto Pfenninger.

The marriage of Otto Pfenninger and Sophia Loose took place in the district of Horsham in West Sussex during the First Quarter of 1883. After their marriage, the couple returned to Otto's native country of Switzerland. In 1883, Otto Pfenninger and his wife were living at St Gallen in Switzerland. Around this time, the couple's first child James Pfenninger was born. During their stay in Switzerland, Otto's English-born wife, Sophie, became a Swiss subject. Around 1887, Sophie Pfenninger gave birth to a second child, a daughter named Dinah May Pfenninger, but sadly she became mentally handicapped at the age of six months.

There is evidence that Otto Pfenninger was active as a photographer before his marriage to Sophia Loose. A picture entitled "Wintry Landscape", photographed by Otto Pfenninger in 1882, is in the collection of the Foto-Historama, Agfa-Gevaert, Leverkusen. ( Because of his name, Otto Pfenninger is often assumed to be German and consequently "Wintry Landscape" made an appearance as part of an exhibition of "19th Century German Photography" held in New York in 1982 ). During this period, Otto Pfenninger appears to have been more concerned with "art photography" than commercial studio portraiture. In August 1883, Otto Pfenninger exhibited his work at the Exposition Internationale de Photographic at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in France. Otto Pfenninger was apparently still working as a photographer in Switzerland in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

[ABOVE] The trade plate of the Swiss photographer Otto Pfenninger, who operated a portrait studio in St Gallen, Switzerland during the late 1880s and early 1890s.

[ABOVE] Otto Pfenninger (1855-1929), a Swiss photographer who settled in Brighton during the 1890s.

Otto Pfenninger in Brighton

Otto Pfenninger was active as a professional photographer in England from the late 1890s. Otto Pfenninger and his family are not recorded in the 1891 British census, but by 1898 the Swiss photographer was operating a photographic portrait studio at 79 West Street, Brighton.

The studio at 79 West Street, Brighton, had been opened by Lombardi & Co. around 1876. The Lombardi studios in Brighton had been established by two Italian photographers, Antonio Martinucci (1830-1880) and Eugenio Martinucci (1849-1920), around 1864. When Eugenio Lombardi left Brighton for London, the Lombardi studios in Brighton passed to two local photographers Robert Hatt (1843-1918) and Burt Sharp (1852-1913), but they retained the name of Lombardi & Co. When the partnership between Robert Hatt and Burt Sharp (trading as Lombardi & Co.) was dissolved early in 1883, the studio at 79 West Street, Brighton was continued by Burt Sharp under his own name. Burt Sharp operated the studio at 79 West Street until the end of 1894. By 1895, the studio at 79 West Street, Brighton, was again operating under the name of Lombardi & Co.

The re-emergence of Lombardi & Co. in Brighton in the mid 1890s, might signal the arrival of Otto Pfenninger, but firm evidence of his activity as a portrait photographer at 79 West Street does not emerge until 1898, when Towner's Directory of Brighton listed the studio as LOMBARDI & Co. (O. P. Suisse). The signature of "O. P. Suisse" also appears on the carte-de-visite portraits produced at the Brighton studio of Lombardi & Co. between 1898 and 1903. The pseudonym of "O. P. Suisse" is not difficult to unravel; the initials "O. P." represent Otto Pfenninger and the surname "Suisse" indicates the photographer's nationality.

[ABOVE] The photographer's signature of "O. P. Suisse" which appears at the foot of carte-de-visite portraits taken by Otto Pfenninger at the studio of Lombardi & Co. at 79 West Street, Brighton, between 1898 and 1903. The nom de plume of  "O. P. Suisse" appears to have been used by Otto Pfenninger solely for his studio portrait photography.

Otto Pfenninger working in Brighton under the pseudonym of "O. P. Suisse"

The identification of the photographer "O. P. Suisse" as Otto Pfenninger is confirmed by the 1901 census return for 79 West Street, Brighton. Otto Pfenninger is recorded as a "Photographer", aged 46, residing at 79 West Street, Brighton, with his wife, two teenage children and his mother-in-law, Mrs Eliza Loose, a sixty-five year old widow. ( Eliza's husband, James Loose, had died at the age of 69 in Burstow, Surrey, at the end of the previous year). The enumerator makes it clear on the census return that Otto Pfenninger was a "Photographer - Employer" who worked from the studio at 79 West Street, Brighton. Otto's son, seventeen year old James Pfenninger, is listed on the return as a Photographer's Apprentice, working alongside his father at the Lombardi studio in West Street. Otto Pfenninger shared the accommodation at 79 West Street, Brighton, with two other families - a seventy-year old widow Mrs Mary Stephens and her unmarried daughter Florence, living on their "own means" and a married couple Sophia and Richard Pitcher, described on the census return as a "Restaurant Keeper", who ran Refreshment Rooms at No 6 West Street. Brighton.


1901 Census : 79 West Street, Brighton     [ RG /13  933 folio 104 , page 7 ]






Otto Pfenninger Head

Photographer                                  (Employer - working at home)


Swiss Subject

Sophia Pfenninger wife   41 Swiss Subject
James Pfenninger son

Apprentice (Photo)

17 Swiss Subject
Dinah Pfenninger daughter "feeble minded from birth" 14 Swiss Subject
Eliza Loose Mother-in-law   65 Shirley, Surrey

[ABOVE] Details of  the photographer Otto Pfenninger and his family, as recorded on the 1901 census return for 79 West Street, Brighton.

The studio of Lombardi & Co. at 79 West Street, Brighton, is not listed in Towner's 1904 Directory of Brighton & Hove, but there is evidence that Otto Pfenninger was still taking photographs in the Brighton area between 1904 and 1906. When Otto Pfenninger submitted a photograph to the 49th Annual Exhibition of the Royal Photographic Society in September 1904, he gave his home address as 105 Hythe Road, Brighton. Between 1904 and 1906, Otto Pfenninger was exploring colour photography and so he may have abandoned his career in commercial portrait photography during this period of experimentation. [ Around 1906, the photographic studio at 79 West Street, Brighton was acquired by Clements & Co., a firm of photographers probably associated with Albert Charles Clements (1865-1938), a Brighton-born photographer who had previously worked in Brighton, London and Hastings ]. Many of Pfenninger's early colour photographs were taken in Brighton during the Summer of 1906.


[ABOVE] A carte-de-visite portrait of  a middle-aged man signed by "O. P. Suisse" (Otto Pfenninger), from the studio of Lombardi & Co., 79 West Street, Brighton (c1902).
 [ABOVE] Detail from a carte-de-viste portrait showing the inscription at the foot of a photographic portrait. "O. P. Suisse" was the pseudonym or nom de plume of the Swiss photographer Otto Pfenninger.

Otto Pfenninger as a Pioneer of Colour Photography

Today, the name of Otto Pfenninger is mainly associated with the early history of colour photography. In 1905, Otto Pfenninger, an early pioneer of colour photography, designed and built a special camera that used 3-colour separated plates to create full-colour photographic images. In the Summer of 1906, Otto Pfenninger took his tri-colour, single exposure camera to the parks and beaches of Brighton and created some of the earliest colour images of the seaside town. The Royal Photographic Society has in its collection a number of colour photographs taken by Otto Pfenninger between June and August 1906. Some, if not all, the photographs were taken in the seaside resort of Brighton. A number of the photographs, including Figures on beach with a pier, 8.30am, 6th August 1906 ; Children in the water, 6th August 1906 ; Crowded Beach, 1906 ; Children Playing on the Beach, 1906 ; Mother and Children Paddling, 16th June, 1906 ; The Boat Trip, 1906; and Group of Children, 1906, were clearly taken at Brighton. The pier and the stone groyne which appear in several of Pfenninger's tri-colour photographs can be identified as Brighton's Palace Pier and the flint-faced promenade groyne opposite Brighton's East Street. The five children posing for Pfenninger's 1906 photograph entitled Group of Children are standing in front of the King's Road Arches on Brighton's seafront. The "one exposure" colour photograph of a mother and her two children near a park bench, photographed by Otto Pfenninger on 15th July 1906, was possibly taken in a Brighton park. During this period, Otto Pfenninger was working alongside Captain William Norman Lascelles Davidson and Dr Benjamin Jumeaux, two local men who were experimenting with colour cinematography.

On 6th December, 1907, Otto Pfenninger gave a lecture entitled "Colour Photography" at a meeting of The Brighton and Hove Natural History and Philosophical Society. According to a contemporary report, in his talk to the Society, Otto Pfenninger covered "Colour Photography in general and the application of his invented One-Exposure-Camera for Colour Photography in particular".

On 13th April 1920, Otto Pfenninger submitted to the British Patent Office an invention entitled "New Means in Colour-Kinematography" (British Patent No. GB166344). In the early 1920s, writing under the pseudonym "O. Reg", Otto Pfenninger authored a short book entitled "Byepaths of Colour Photography".

Otto Pfenninger after 1911

At the time of the 1911 census, Otto Pfenninger was residing with his wife "Sophy" and their daughter Dinah at 105 Hythe Road in the Preston district of Brighton. On the 1911 census return, Otto Pfenninger is recorded as a fifty-five year old "Photographer". A note on the census return form states that Pfenninger's daughter, twenty-four year old Dinah May Pfeninger, had been "helpless for 23 1/2 years." Otto Pfenninger was still residing at 105 Hythe Road, Preston, Brighton in 1915.

By 1924, Otto Pfenninger had left Brighton and was residing in the Croydon area of Surrey. The deaths of Otto Pfenninger's wife, Sophia, in 1924 and his daughter, Dinah, the following year, were registered in the district of Croydon.

Otto Pfenninger died in Mitcham, Surrey, on 20th March, 1929, at the age of 73.

When the 1911 census was taken, James Otto Pfenninger, Otto Pfenninger's son, was working as a pharmacist's assistant at a chemist's shop at 105 Church Road, Hove. It appears that James  Pfenninger later moved to South West London. Between 1917 and 1919 he was residing at 44 Hitherfield Road, Streatham. The death of James Otto Pfenninger was registered in the Surrey Mid East district during the 3rd Quarter of 1946.


More colour photographs by Otto Pfenninger can be viewed by searching the Science & Society Picture Library with the key words "Otto Pfenninger".


Science & Society Picture Library

[ABOVE] Children playing on the beach at Brighton, a colour photograph by Otto Pfenninger, dated 16th June 1906. [Photograph courtesy of the Royal Photographic Society]

[ABOVE] A group of children on Brighton's seafront, a colour photograph by Otto Pfenninger, dated 1906. [Photograph courtesy of the Royal Photographic Society]

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