Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Web Wandering Wednesday

Photography is a circus kind of business, destined to a short life,
and unfit for a gentleman to engage in.

~ Unknown - 1862 ~

One-hundred and forty-six years later photography and photographers (men and women) are still going strong. Today there are more amateur photographers then at any other time in history. Documenting our photographs has become more critical than ever. As more photographs are taken by amateurs (those without a commercial studio), dating a photograph through its photographer becomes impossible.

In the Photo Of The Week columns here on Shades, I have stressed the importance of researching the commercial studio of a formal studio portrait in ascertaining the date of that photograph. I believe it is one of the most important and reliable aspects of dating a photograph. Many authorities will stress the clothing worn by the subject, but clothing is the least reliable means of dating photographs.

I have discussed my ongoing efforts to create a database of photographers for my own state of Washington. The University of Washington has created a database of approximately 850 photographers who operated in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska during the period from about the 1870s to 1935. Their database provides information regarding the photographers name and the city, state and year that the photographer had an established business. In some cases, it includes the studio address. Most of the information in this database was extracted from city directories and vertical files held in Special Collections. I am extremely grateful for the tremendous amount of work that went into this database of photographers by the University staff. Even with this effort, the University has missed a few photographers.

It would be an impossible task for me to document all of the past photographers in the entire United States, which is why I have limited my research to the state of Washington. Were we each to take even a small section of our own states, we could accomplish so much. I urge all those having old family photographs or photographic collections to begin documenting the photographers and studios. It would be advantageous to be consistent in the documentation, so I am including the categories I have used to create my database.

Here is an example of the entry for the database I am compiling.

Steelhead, Albert

Woodbury County, IA.


Chewelah, Wa.



Born in Sweden, December 1858. Immigrated to the United States in 1882. Married 1880, Adora Steelhead. Adora (unknown) Steelhead (b. Apr. 1867, Missouri); widow 1920 census Pasadna, CA; occupation lacemaker. Two children: Son - Francis A. (b. June 1892, Illinois). Son - Ralph V. (b. Jul 1895, Iowa) occupation, clergyman Pasadena, CA 1920.

Living Smithland, Iowa, 1900, with his wife Adora and two sons, Francis A. and Ralph V. He is a photographer who owns his own business.

Living Chewelah, Washington 1910, without his wife and children. PNPD lists him as a photographer who owns his own business 1905 - 1914.

Adora Steelhead living Los Angeles, California 1920, as a widow.



1900 U.S. census, Woodbury County, Iowa, population schedule, Smithland, p. 122, dwelling 71, family 71, Albert Steelhead (Head); digital images. Heritage Quest ( : retrieved 1 December 2007); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 466.

1910 U.S. census, Stevens County, Washington, population schedule, Chewelah PCT, p. 227, dwelling 18 , family 17, Albert Steelhead (Head); digital images. Heritage Quest ( : retrieved 1 December 2007); citing NARA microfilm publication T1672, roll 227.

1920 U.S. census, Los Angeles County, California, population schedule, Los Angeles, p. 125, dwelling 501 , family 521, Adora Steelhead (Head); digital images. Heritage Quest ( : retrieved 1 December 2007); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 106.

1920 U.S. census, Los Angeles County, California, population schedule, Altadena, Pasadena, p. 29, dwelling 119 , family 124, Ralph V. Steelhead (Head); digital images. Heritage Quest ( : retrieved 1 December 2007); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 117.

Mautz, Carl. Biographies of Western Photographers. Nevada City, California: Carl Mautz Publishing, 1997.

"Pacific Northwest Photographers Database." Database. University of Washington Special Collections. : 2007.

Imprint. A. Steelhead, Artist. Photograph (Cabinet Card). ca. 1905-1914. Digital Image. Privately held by the fo0tnoteMaven [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington.2007


Albert Steelhead died sometime between the 1910 and 1920 census.

If you create a database for your photographs, state, or section of a state, please post a link to that information in the comments section of this article and I will compile a listing of all databases.

As I wander the web, I will collect all such existing databases world wide. If you know of an existing database or website, please include the information in the comments section of this article and I will include them in the list.

I have found an excellent database of photographers maintained by the Auckland City Libraries, Auckland, New Zealand, which I will include. This is an index to photographers who have worked in New Zealand from the 1840s to the present day. The sources they use include advertisements, newspapers, electoral rolls, published articles, and trade directories. Their index is very similar to mine, however, I think it would be enhanced by including the advertisements and photographers' imprints.

Here is an example of what is found in the database:


Campbell, John Logan






Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1902), ii.252; R C J Stone, "The Father and His Gift: John Logan Campbell's later years" (1987), p243.


John Logan Campbell was a founder member of the Auckland Camera Club in 1885, and patron of the revived club in 1895/1901. The British Journal Photographic Almanac lists him as president of the Auckland Photographic Club 1900-01, patron 1902, and president of the Auckland Camera Club 1903. He was a keen amateur photographer with his own darkroom., and several of his photographs of the Hauraki Gulf taken from his house "Kilbryde" were reproduced as postcards with the interlinked initials of his name forming the identifying monogram. He produced a portrait of himself as a postcard which he circulated as a birthday card (info: Rendell MacIntosh). A photograph of the Southern Cross newspaper office in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand, ii.267, is credited to him.

I hope we can all work together to make dating our family photographs and collections easier through the use of these databases.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is an important idea.
I have this on my to-do list and will let you know more when I develop my database.

"Guided by the Ancestors"

May 14, 2008 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger JEWELGIRL said...

fM, this is a great idea!
Some documentation has been done by the local gensocieties
in my area,but not to the degree of documentation you have.

May 15, 2008 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Daniel Dean Gutierrez said...

You should start a new photographer database with The Open Database Project at:

This is a free public database repository for people to share information, so it seems like a perfect place to start the database you describe in your post.


June 8, 2008 at 8:22 PM  

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