Total Pageviews

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Pioneering Photojournalists and their Typewriters

Charles Rollin Brainerd at his typewriter
and Henry Hamilton Bennett with his camera in 1889.
Photojournalism is said to have started in the middle of the 19th Century, more than 20 years before the Sholes & Glidden typewriter went into production. But back then the “news photographs” which appeared in newspapers and magazines were engraved from original prints, taken by pioneer photographers who were not, strictly speaking, also journalists, or indeed who were not working alongside journalists. One photograph, even perhaps one which appears in print in engraved form, might tell 1000 words, but it still needs words to describe where and why it was taken. The earliest example of a photographer and journalist working in tandem is probably the monthly magazine Street Life in London produced in 1876-77, after the advent of the typewriter, by photographer John Thomson (1837-1921) and radical journalist Adolphe Smith (1846-1925), a major influence on Upton Sinclair. Interestingly, though he was born in Headingley in Yorkshire, Smith’s only Wikipedia entry is an inaccurate one in French. 
Adolphe Smith
Another pioneering team was Henry Hamilton Bennett (1843-1908) and the wayward writer Charles Rollin Brainerd (1840-98). There are many references to the latter’s surname as Brainard, but the family name was actually Brainerd. The image at the top of this post is one part of a stereoview of Bennett working on his camera in a private rail car in October 1889, and Brainerd writing the captions on his typewriter. The pair were on a commission from the Wisconsin Central Railway Company to photograph the landscape along the company's track in Wisconsin. Bennett and Brainerd provided their own equipment, including a rifle and knife. Bennett made this exposure by pulling a string attached to the camera.
The anaglyph of the same image. An anaglyph is a stereoscopic photograph with the two images superimposed and printed in different colours, usually red and green, producing a stereo effect when viewed with appropriate filters over each eye.
Brainerd’s article, published in a guidebook after the trip, explained they had been hired to portray the beauty along the line. It described Bennett's “double-barreled” stereo camera and noted the persuasive power of images. Brainerd’s stories from the journey also appeared in pamphlets and newspapers and he later became the company’s local attorney in Waupaca.
Henry Hamilton Bennett
While Brainerd has been forgotten by historians, Bennett remains famous for his pictures of the Dells of the Wisconsin River and surrounding area taken between 1865 and 1908. They turned Wisconsin Dells into a major tourist destination. Bennett was born in Farnham, Quebec, but raised in Brattleboro, Vermont. At 14 he settled with his family in Kilbourn City, later known as Wisconsin Dells. Accidentally self-wounded in the Civil War, Bennett bought the Kilbourn City photography studio in 1865. Having set his sights on landscape photography, Bennett built himself a portable darkroom and towed it across the countryside. Dry plates enabled him to abandon the portable darkroom in 1886. Bennett made his first stereoscopic photo in 1868 and invented a stop action shutter. Bennett also built a revolving solar printing house.
Brainerd was a bit of an oddball. Born in Ravenna, Portage, Ohio on August 5, 1840, at age six he learned to set type for The Sheboygan Times before his family moved in 1849 to Green Bay, where, still a child, he spent most of his time at The Green Bay Advocate.  By 11 he could speak three languages, French, German and English, as well as the Menominee and Oneida Native American tongues. With those skills he was offered work as a clerk on a man’s wage. The family moved to Waupaca in 1853, and Brainerd joined The Wisconsin Pinery. He then worked for the Waupaca Register and at 20 entered Racine College. Brainerd graduated in 1864, studied theology at Nashotah, was ordinated to the Episcopalian ministry in 1867, and served in Milwaukee and Quincy, Massachusetts. In 1873 he switched to Catholicism and became a lawyer, being admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1876 and the US bar in 1878. He practised law in Boston until 1888.
One of three patents Brainerd took out to assist newspaper compositing.
But then Brainerd made another right turn and took up writing. The next 20 years were largely devoted to newspaper, magazine and syndicated work and the second volume of Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography, contributing 400 entries. Brainerd wrote regularly for The North American Review and The Chicago Times and travelled to Canada and Mexico. He died in Waupaca on February 2, 1898, aged 57. His local newspaper put it mildly by saying he had had “a varied career” and a “very eccentric disposition”. He had “denounced, harassed and tormented his mother” to the point at which in 1887 he was declared insane and committed to an asylum for indulging “in some very queer freaks and antics”. His obituary said that “He must have, early in life, become addicted to stimulants, which habit in the end gained the mastery over one of the brightest minds, and at middle age he died without a dollar or a friend.”
Jessie Tarbox Beals
It would very much have surprised Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942) to suspect that, in death, she would be related through marriage to Brainerd. But that’s what happened in 1943, when Beals’ daughter Nanette (1911-94) married Henry Bowen Brainerd, a distant cousin of Charles Rollin Brainerd, 18 months after her mother’s death. Jessie Tarbox Beals was the first published female photojournalist in the United States and the first female night photographer. She is best known for her freelance news photographs, particularly of the 1904 St Louis World's Fair, and portraits of places such as Bohemian Greenwich Village.
Beals prepares to take a high shot from a 20ft ladder in St Louis in 1904.
Beals was born Jessie Richmond Tarbox on December 23, 1870, in Hamilton, Ontario. At 14 she was admitted to the Collegiate Institute of Ontario, and at 17 received her teaching certificate. Beals began teaching at a one-room schoolhouse in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, and in 1888, Beals won a subscription prize camera through the Youth's Companion magazine. She soon bought a higher quality Kodak camera and set up Williamsburg's first photography studio in front of her house. In 1893 Beals took a new teaching position in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and visited the World's Fair Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In 1899 she received her first professional assignment when she was asked by the Boston Post to photograph the Massachusetts state prison. The next year Beals received her first credit line in a publication, the Windham County Reformer.
Beals in 1904.

In 1901 Beals was hired as a staff photographer by the Buffalo Inquirer and the Buffalo Courier. Beals could be seen carrying out assignments in her ankle-length dresses and large hats, with her 8 x 10-inch glass plate camera and 50lb of equipment in tow. She had a different style than most news photographers of the day, focusing on series of pictures that would later be used to write stories, rather than vice versa. In 1905 Beals opened her own studio on Sixth Avenue in New York City. She moved to Greenwich Village and opened a new photography studio and gallery in 1920. She died on May 30, 1942, at Bellevue Hospital, aged 71.
Beals at her Oliver typewriter in 1906.
Beals' photograph of her one-year-old daughter Nanette
 in a wooden box by Beals' studio window, April 10, 1912.
Beals' photo of Norwegian-born author Henry Oyen (1883-1921) in 1913.
He died suddenly in his studio of a cerebral haemorrhage, aged just 37.
Beals' photo of Emily Post in 1927.
Beals' photo of a model at a typewriter,  1911 


Richard P said...

Lots of interesting images here. I like the photo of the boy whose entire body is distorted from carrying the weight of that suitcase!

Bill M said...

I learn something new with each of your posts Robert.
4 semesters of photography and this is the first I've heard of Jessie Beals. Those are fine weapons of choice in the first & third photos: typewriter, camera, and a rifle.