Now one of the oldest photography studios in the country, Strauss Peyton was established in 1908 by Benjamin R Strauss and Homer K. Peyton. Seen as a considerable force in the growing world of celebrity photography, their clientele included such notable names as Harry S. Truman, Anna Pavlova, Douglas MacArthur, Franklin D Roosevelt, Enrico Caruso, Fred Astaire, the Marx Brothers, John Philip Sousa, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Mary Pickford, Al Jolson, Bette Davis, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and Kansas City's own Jean Harlow.
Trained in portraiture by his brother, Benjamin Strauss moved from St. Louis to Kansas City in 1900 and opened Strauss Studio with the motion picture pioneer and photographer, George Curtiss.
Homer Peyton was an extremely talented assistant and artist who excelled at manipulating images. He would create one of a kind art pieces by adding to the negatives with pencil or crayon to create a unique background as well as sculpting shadows and adding a greater tonal range in the portraits to enhance the depth. Impressed with his assistant’s abilities, Strauss made Peyton a partner in 1908 and the studio name was changed to Strauss-Peyton to reflect the new partnership.
Strauss Peyton took advantage of Kansas City's theatrical life with the multitude of visiting artists, performers and dignitaries from the three different theatrical circuits which provided plenty of photographic subjects.This led to the opening of a third studio location for Strauss Peyton in the lobby of the Muehlebach Hotel.
Strauss Peyton likewise became sought after for portraits of local Kansas City children, brides, families, businessmen and politicians, often having their portraits published in the society pages of the Independent Magazine and the Kansas City star. They even personally would make the gossip column occasionally. One such published report of Mr. Peyton dancing after dinner at the Plantation Grill with actress Fritzi Scheff, commented: "Someone, a spectator, remarked that Mr. Peyton was Kansas City's official entertainer of celebrities.".
By the mid-20's, the partnership was crumbling. Homer Peyton had taken over the running of the New York location in 1926 and preferred to focus on celebrities while Ben wanted to maintain a strong presence in Kansas City. According to a Cleveland newspaper article: "The lure of New York struck the boys and they moved into the finest studio in Manhattan. Business was sensational, until one day the partners argued and Ben walked out. He was tired out." Strauss sold the studio to the DeCloud Family in 1926 and moved to Cleveland where he opened Ben Strauss Studio. Peyton kept the New York studio operating until the stock market crash in 1929. He closed the studio and moved across the country to Seattle where he opened a studio in the Olympic Hotel, which is now the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle.
The exclusive Country Club Plaza became home to Strauss Peyton by 1929 and maintained the brand name and exclusive clientele for over 50 years. However, in late 1969 to early 1970, a reorganization of the studio left the very large collection of historical glass plates and negatives vulnerable to abandonment. Strauss Peyton wisely donated these glass plates and negatives from over 55,000 sittings to the Jackson County Historical Society.
This donation proved fortunate indeed since the 1977 devastating flood of the Country Club Plaza totally destroyed the Strauss Peyton Studio. The studio had over 5 feet of water on the main floor and the basement was totally under water. Mark Braswell bought the Strauss Peyton Studio in 1977, just four months before the flood. Braswell became the fifth owner of the studio and had to completely rebuild in the same year.
Braswell’s youth and leadership brought new life into the revered Kansas City institution. He and his wife Joan became involved in the Kansas City community. In one of Mark’s favorite projects, he donated his time and talents to create portraits of Kansas City Symphony musicians. A portrait exhibit was created from these portraits and displayed in the Lyric Theatre for a number of years before becoming a traveling exhibit around the city. A collaboration with the Symphony League created a cookbook with the images as a fundraiser.
For Children’s Mercy Hospital, Mark created a portrait exhibit of children who were under the special care of the different specialties at the hospital. A calendar was created from the images and raised a significant amount of money for the hospital.
During his career, Braswell earned a Master’s degree in portrait photography. He won many state, national and international awards for his portraiture. He had the honor of creating a portrait of Margaret Thatcher, photographing Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, holding workshops for the Professional Photographers of America, working on joint projects with Christie’s in London, teaching seminars in the south of France and was a charter member of an exclusive group of photographers from around the world known as XXV, because the membership is limited to 25 members.
Braswell introduced a number of innovations to the studio. He was the first portrait photographer in the area to enter the digital age and give up the nearly 100 year old standard of photographic film. While the studio was already putting photographic portraits on canvas when he purchased Strauss Peyton, he was the first to begin printing the portraits directly onto the canvas with inks. He also introduced a painted and watercolor style of portrait.
In 2000, Mark moved from the Country Club Plaza to Overland Park, Kansas. Mark has enjoyed a fifty year career of photographic excellence, more than forty of those years keeping alive the tradition of photographing the notable names of Kansas City, appearing regularly in local publications and doing what he loves best, making memories that last for Kansas City’s families and children.
In 2018, Mark began the journey towards retirement and passed Strauss Peyton ownership to his son Jonathan and Jonathan’s wife, Kaela. Jonathan grew up at Strauss Peyton, working first as his dad’s photography assistant, then as a portrait printer and portrait photographer. Kaela also has a background in photography, having owned and operated her own studio in the Seattle area before meeting Jonathan and relocating to KC.
The couple has a strong focus on philanthropy and have committed to a $250,000 goal each year of donating photographic goods and services to organizations in the Kansas City area. Jonathan and Kaela are planning a bright future with creativity, innovative projects and leadership in the field of portraiture.