The son of artists, Harold Haliday Costain began to foster his creative talents as a young man, taking music lessons and studying the graphic arts at the Art Students League in New York. Given his first camera by his father in 1913, the young Costain quickly perceived the medium’s ability to record a narrative swiftly and accurately. His first exhibited photograph, made with a Brownie camera gifted by his father, was taken at age 17.
During World War I, Costain served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Leviathan, taking photos and playing first coronet in the Navy band directed by John Phillip Sousa. Following the war, Mr. Costain began his 70-year-long professional photographic career as a “stillman,” assistant cinematographer, and general Jack-of-all-trades for silent films. Through a music student, he met the inventive motion picture artist Gerald J. Badgeley, who offered him a position on the set of “The Lost Battalion”. Using a large format camera, Costain recorded stills arranged to show the peak of action in each scene. He would go on to contribute to over a dozen films.
Always testing the limits of the medium, Costain was also an early adopter of color photography and printing, designing his own cameras and experimenting with early Autochromes, Agfa Direct Color Plates, and tri-color Carbro printing. Thus, Costain was able to improve the color photographic process, producing images of remarkable quality and stability.
In the mid 1920s, Costain opened a studio is Scarsdale, New York, specializing in advertising, architectural, and narrative photography. His refreshing sense of lighting and exquisite compositional control attracted a wide range of commercial clients, including advertisers, industrial and manufacturing firms, architects, fashion designers, and interior decorators. Costain’s work was featured in such publications as House and Garden, Town and Country Magazine, U.S. Camera, Modern Photography, Fortune, and more.
Costain’s expertise was proven by his often making a single photograph, having done such research and meticulous arranging before making the exposure that he was confident to have achieved exactly what he’d set out to capture. Among his many commissions were stunning series on the Avery Island Salt Mines, the Jack Frost sugar factory, and southern plantations. He photographed a number of famous artists such as Norman Rockwell, Leo Friedlander, and Tallulah Bankhead. In 1941, Mr. Costain spent two weeks with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, photographing their estate for a magazine spread.
Costain’s work was widely exhibited around the world and was awarded numerous medals, trophies, and certificates. He won awards from many prestigious salons, including several annual conventions of the Photographers Association of America, the International Exposition Salon, and the Preston Scientific Society Salon. He received three consecutive Pictorial Photographers of America trophies in 1933, ’34, and ’35.
With the gift of creativity and uncompromising craftsmanship, Harold Haliday Costain produced an exceptional body of work that places him at the forefront of twentieth century commercial photography.