Drahomír Joseph Ruzicka was born in Bohemia in 1870. At age six he moved with his family to a farm near Wahoo, Nebraska. A state that drew many Czech immigrants.
In 1882, the young Ruzicka went to New York to finish high school, then to Vienna for college, and graduated from New York University with a medical degree in 1891. A few years later, he set up a private practice in obstetrics and paediatrics on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and became one of the earliest doctors to use X rays. But in 1921, when he was in his early fifties, he retired from medicine.
Ruzicka’s knowledge of X rays fostered an interest in photography, and he purchased his first camera in 1904. At first he was unhappy with his amateur results but in 1909 became aware of the creative possibilities of the medium. Within a few years his pictorial images were appearing in magazines such as Photo Era, for which he also wrote an article on photographing in the city that appeared in October 1911. During the 1910s, he photographed primarily in the parks of New York, producing platinum prints that were subtly toned and full of traditional pictorial beauty.
Ruzicka is best known for his images of the old Pennsylvania Station (by architects McKim, Mead and White), which he began making around 1915. Always set in the station’s cavernous interior, the pictures are flooded with light and largely inhabited by businessmen and other commuters. At this time, he began making straight prints, more sharply focused and with greater tonal contrast. Influenced by modernist attitudes and subject matter, he also photographed on Wall Street, Fifth Avenue, and 42nd Street, exploring what he called the “canyons” of New York.
Ruzicka’s straight pictorialism helped nurture the movement of modern photography in his native Czechoslovakia. In 1921, he returned for an extended stay in Prague, where he showed his work to local camera clubs and spoke about the aesthetics of photography. Czech photographers were still basing much of their imagery and technique on paintings and other established arts, but Ruzicka’s example showed the path of modernism to such individuals as Josef Sudek and Jaromír Funke, who went on to make major contributions to avant-garde photography in their country.