Paul Linwood Gittings, portrait photographer, was born in Baltimore on January 23, 1900, the only child of Thomas and Addie (Jefferson) Gittings. His family suffered financial hardship after his father lost his job as a trolley-car painter, and at age eleven Gittings left school to work as an office boy. He labored at a series of odd jobs until 1919, when he began working as a plate boy in the studio of Walter Bachrach, the leading photographer of the upper class along the East Coast and in the upper Midwest. At Bachrach's studio Gittings learned to take and develop photographs and absorbed important lessons in selling psychology. Bachrach used a glamorous ambience and high prices to lure wealthy patrons, who in turn imparted their social cachet to the studio name; this strategy later formed the basis of Gittings's success in Texas.
For nine years Gittings climbed the ranks in the Bachrach organization, eventually becoming a photographer on the road in the Midwest and Canada and training other photographers in the company. In 1924 he married Evelyn May Pittsworth in Baltimore; they had a son and a daughter. In August 1928 Gittings moved to Houston and established Bachrach studios in Houston and Dallas. Five years later the Bachrach company was forced to retrench and sold the Texas studios to Gittings at one-fourth of their value. During the height of the Great Depression, Gittings managed to establish his reputation as a luxury photographer by sinking $2,000 into radio advertising and by developing a flattering portrait style that frequently employed candles in portraits of women as well as a popular pewter-toned finish.
In 1947 Gittings became one of the first photographers in Texas to offer dye-transfer color photographs to the public. He sold the expensive process by enhancing color photographs as portraits: he offered large formats that mimicked the size of paintings and encouraged customers to frame and illuminate color photographs as they would a painting. Gittings also introduced the idea of marketing photographic galleries of distinguished groups. The Gittings galleries of business executives, civic leaders, and educators became series that had to be enlarged over time and generated ongoing publicity for the studio and photographic orders from the Texas elite. Members of leading Texas families were recorded in Gittings's portraits, as were such celebrities as John Wayne, Barry Goldwater, Princess Grace of Monaco, Nancy Reagan, Sophia Loren, and John Connally. The bulk of Gittings's business, however, came from middle-class brides and executives who wished to identify themselves and their families with the upper-crust Gittings image.
In later years Gittings lectured on photography in Europe and throughout the United States. He taught at the Winona School of Photography in Winona Lake, Indiana (now located in Des Plaines, Illinois) and served many years as a member of the school's board of trustees. Gittings was named a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and the Photographic Society of America, an honorary fellow of the Institute of Incorporated Photographers, the British Institute of Photography, and the American Society of Photographers, and was an honorary master of photography. As president of the Professional Photographers Association of America in 1954, he was credited with restoring sound business management to that organization and encouraging its affiliation with many regional, state, and local photography associations. Three years later the PPAA presented Gittings with the George Harris Award, the highest honor given to commercial photographers. Gittings's business continued to grow during this period: in 1964 his son, Paul, opened the first out-of-state Gittings studio in Phoenix, Arizona, and by 1972 the operation had extended to Kansas City and Atlanta, with representatives in sixty cities in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
In 1973 Gittings retired and moved to Dallas, but continued to serve as chairman of the trustees of the Gittings Foundation. In 1987 his daughter, Myrl, sold the Gittings company to Paul Skipworth, who continued to operate the studios under the name Gittings. Gittings lectured and took photographs for his own pleasure until his death, in Dallas on February 7, 1988. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, the Chicago Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Boston Camera Club, and the Royal Photographic Society. Examples are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Photographic Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where Gittings had served as chairman of the board of trustees.