Sunday, December 07, 2014

REVIEW - “Man & Yosemite, A Photographer's View of the Early Years,” by Ted Orland


Published by the Image Continuum Press, no date for publication.

By Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

Author's Name Misspelled
Orland's book, “Man & Yosemite, A Photographer's View of the Early Years,” fails badly as history, leaving out significant figures who shaped the early years after the Western discovery of Yosemite. In this he clearly is following the lead of his mentor, Ansel Adams. Adams, focusing on Muybridge and Fiske, has managed to skew the public perception both of Yosemite's early history in photography and substitute a focus on the self-conscious expression photography as 'art.' In so doing those who, such as Orland, who see only an avenue for their own ego fail to see the creative force in humanity which is responsible for our forward motion for more clearly understanding ourselves and the world around us.

The explosion of developments in every arena for human knowledge was impacted by photography. These include physics and medicine, which were recalibrated when it became possible to see the worlds once beyond human sight. Its edge developments for impacting human understanding remain significant today in the age of the ubiquitous 'Selfie,” shot by children and baboons.

Without the transformational technology of photography the erstwhile photographer would still be using a pencil and paper or oils. Other forms of art using a variety of technologies have far longer and deeper roots.

The copy of Orland's book, referenced here, is in the possession of this writer. It was purchased at the Yosemite Visitor's Center new for $10.00. While no publication date was provided a cursory search of the Internet provides the date of 1985.

Written from the perspective of photography as art, the book, supposedly about the history of early photography in Yosemite is a brief survey of photographers in the 1800s with only the last four pages brushing briefly over the fewer than ten photographers who ran businesses in Yosemite Valley during the referenced period of time.

Instead of the pretentious title chosen, “Man & Yosemite, A Photographer's View of the Early Years,” Orland should have titled the book. “The Photograph as Art in Yosemite from 1880 – 1918.” This would have been a more honest title, allowing potential readers to determine the short volume's real framing. George Fiske, in Orland's opinion, was the only photographer whose work had merit as art.

This approach to the subject naturally ignores the purpose of photography, which was not to become the tool of expression for the self-referencing but a means by which people could view reality. These two purposes can conflict. In the first the point is the photographer. In the second, the photographer works to remove himself from the picture and not attempting to interpret what is seen.

While today we have accepted that photos can be manipulated to show what is not there the technologies original intention was to leave little doubt on this issue.

Even the last four pages of the book, dedicated to photographers who had studios in Yosemite, is fatally flawed. Since Orland's book purports to be historic it must also be noted that he names Boysen as the next resident photographer, entirely missing the earlier claim by Daniel Joseph Foley, who opened the Yosemite Falls Studio in 1892, running it until his death in 1934. Foley was also a newspaper publisher and editor.

Additionally, it was well known by Yosemite historians that the first Boysen Studio, started in 1897 was originally a partnership between Julius Boysen and Pillsbury. Pillsbury sold his share, which included hundreds of his own Yosemite photographs, to Boysen when he decided to take his circuit panorama to the Yukon and record the opening of the mining fields in 1898.

The Orland book is more of a booklet, ending at 80 pages before the list of Illustrations and Additional Sources. The book lacks both a list of chapters and possesses no index. It is clearly not a serious attempt at history.

Daniel Foley was primarily a publisher who took and sold photos and post cards and prints in addition to his main business. Foley's business, which was publishing both a guide to Yosemite, titled, “Foley's Yosemite Souvenir & Guide.” The Foley Guide was well written, carrying advertisements, photos, a compilation of essential information, and other useful material. It was clearly the work of a professional writer, lacking the stilted and lack-luster writing usual in government publications. Along with the Foley Guide Yosemite Falls Studio produced a weekly newsletter which allowed tourists to keep track of arrivals and news in the Valley.

Orland ignores the significance of Pillsbury and Foley, two figures who played large parts in the development of Yosemite and its popularization as a icon now known around the world. Additionally, Orland ignores the photographic inventions and innovations which took place in Yosemite, shaping public perception of its beauties which came from the work of Arthur C. Pillsbury.

Pillsbury's panoramas of Yosemite opened human eyes to the magnitude of its unique geological formation. Pillsbury, whose training was in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University, built the first circuit panorama camera there as his Senior Project, leaving when his senior adviser told him the design would not work.

Pillsbury has been described as a Renaissance Man, one who used the technology of photography as a tool to advance the understanding of nature and the parallel need for preservation. This is no where better demonstrated than his use of film to take nature to people around the world. Pillsbury produced, and showed the first nature movie at his Yosemite Studio in 1909.

In 1912 Pillsbury built the first lapse-time camera to reveal to human eyes the motion of a flower blooming. Short features began appearing in movie theaters in the late 1910s, as Pillsbury's lectures awakened interest in preservation of the natural world.

Pillsbury's last invention while still a concessionaire in Yosemite was the invention of the first microscopic motion picture camera in 1926 – 1927.

Orland clearly did no research on either man or their businesses in the Valley while at the same time asserting they lacked “artistic merit,” a statement unsupportable by the facts and not even supported by his mentor, Ansel Adams. In a letter written in response to the discovery of Pillsbury's photographic collection in Utah by an historian named Rell Francis Adams said, Thank you very much for your interesting letter of October 19th. I knew Mr. Pillsbury very well indeed when he had his studio and shop in Yosemite where he had developed his lapse-time photography of flowers.

Mr. Pillsbury was an extraordinary man and I think his contribution to photography has been overlooked.”

Harry Best is also treated with less than the dignity his work should demand. The mention is limited to, “The other story briefly luring this ext into the twentieth century involves Best's Studio, founded by Harry Best in 1902. Best himself was a well accepted by hardly world-class painter of Yosemite scenes. His real claim upon posterity, however unintentional, results from the unlikely concordance of having a photofinishing service at his Studio, the only piano in Yosemite Valley, and a stunningly beautiful daughter named Virginia.” This resulting in the conversion of the Best Studio to the Ansel Adams Galley some decades later obviously excited the author.

Before mentioning the photofinishing service Orland might have forgotten Adams mention of having his first roll of film developed at the Pillsbury Studio and the neglect by Adams to mention he received his training in photography while working for Pillsbury and during the workshops routinely held at the Pillsbury Studio.

This is naturally why Adams was well acquainted with Pillsbury.

The list of Pillsbury accomplishments in photography dwarfs that of all Yosemite photographers combined. Along with producing more photos, running a business which sold a broad variety of products using photographs, Pillsbury also both made and showed the first nature movie – in 1909 - For its time the production was stunning. In 1912 Pillsbury designed and built the first lapse-time camera for plants, showing the first film to accomplish the preservation of wild flowers in Yosemite. To overlook this is to ignore the applications of photography which brought us to present day in every field of human endeavor, science, journalism, and other extension of technology. Pillsbury had recorded the growth of 500 of the estimated 1,500 wild flower species in Yosemite before the fire which ended his time there in November of 1927.

The arena of photography does not end with black and white stills or color. It subsumes the whole of the technology as it developed.

Under the section titled, “Additional Sources” Orland manages, while writing a book explicitly on Yosemite himself manages to give only a mention to the Muir book explicitly on the Valley. The Yosemite,” published in 1912 by New York: The Century Company. Muir explicitly chose to use, nearly exclusively, Pillsbury photos. The cover is, itself, modeled on the Pillsbury photo of Mt. Watkins and Mirror Lake. Except for the Pillsbury photos in the Muir book the only others came from of a few close associates of Muir.

Additionally, Pillsbury designed the first mass production photo post card machine, Patent granted 1922, designed the first microscopic motion picture camera, the X-Ray motion picture camera. Yosemite was becoming a place where science met the natural world, a potential which died when the the Pillsbury Studio burned in 1927, another event the author ignores entirely.

If you buy the book, do so for the photographs.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

No. 126 – December 3, 2014 – The Guiding Hand and Unseen Miracles



by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster 
 
The entire microscopic unit showing the motor drive synchronized shutter and light all mounted on their respective carriages.
The first showing of a microscopic motion picture took place in a small, make-shift basement laboratory at U. C. Berkeley in 1926. All of the U. C. instructors who could had crowded themselves in to the cramped space.

They were there, wrote Arthur C. Pillsbury ten years later in his book,Miracles of Plant and Animal Life,” “ to see the results and I was very anxious to get their reactions. After the short showing was over, Dr. Setchell turned to Dr. Holman and said, “What have we just seen, Doctor?”

Startled, Dr. Setchell talked about Brownic movements in protoplasm. The theory of pseudo-random motion came from botanist Robert Brown in 1827. Brown noted particles moved through the water. Unable to determine the mechanisms causing this motion it was assumed these were random and not purposeful.

What the UC instructors had seen on the screen was a cell dividing.

There was nothing random about it, as science eventually accepted. Pillsbury did not wait to hear anyone else's opinion. Knowing he needed the best equipment to continue his work he placed an order for what he needed. He then started out on a lecture tour to pay for it. The first unit cost $5,000, an enormous sum in 1926. To ensure these insights would remain available Pillsbury refused to patent his invention, instead publishing instructions for building your own camera.

Pillsbury said in his book, describing what he had seen in his study of Spyder Lily pollen as it germinated. No matter what the obstruction, they grew over and under it or pushed it to one side.” Pillsbury continued,the nucleus, the germ of life, as it came out of the grain, traveled down the tube and entered the stigma. To ponder the reason, the why and wherefore, of nature's struggles to carry on, the difficulties to overcome, make one realize that the Guiding Hand must control all life, that one cannot well be a student of life and an atheist.”

The insights provided must have been unwelcome on college campuses where atheism and Marxism were gaining credibility for ideas covertly funded by the largest, and wealthiest, corporations on Earth.

These insights, with implications for all science, could not be contained. The explosion in discoveries gives mute testimony to what scientists refused to ignore.

In November, 1927, a fire in Pillsbury's studio destroyed his ability to fund another such project.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Knowledge Commons: How sharing changed the world


The first Nature Center Centennial – Yosemite Valley 1910
by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster


Primroses and Half Dome
Today all of us are familiar with nature centers. We know there will be photos, illustrations, exhibits, items we can buy that allow us to better understand the world of nature and the history that accompanies it, usually specific to that location. Nature centers came from the idea that it would be well if we understood the natural world, being a part of it. The year after next will mark the centennial of the modern nature center, an event to be celebrated. 
 
We take for granted those educational resources, familiar with their use of movies, lectures, specimens to explain to the curious the natural world. That was not the case a century ago. 
 
The first such center was located near the Yosemite Chapel next to what was once the road that turned towards the Valley wall. Now that 'road' runs through the parking lot there. There is no marker. That first nature center occupied the small space alloted to the Studio of the Three Arrows, owned by Arthur C. Pillsbury, who had always been fascinated by the world of nature and saw the need to save the wild flowers then being mowed in the meadows of Yosemite. He could have protested, gathered petitions and appealed to Congress. Instead he decided that if people could 'see' the world of nature in all of its beauty and complexity they would love it, understand their connection, and ensure its survival. 
 
Pillsbury said in his book, “Picturing Miracles of Plant and Animal Life,” published in 1937, “One of the first reactions of seeing a reel of flowers growing and opening was to instill a love for them, a realization of their life struggles so similar to ours, and to wish to do something to stop the ruthless destruction of them which was fast causing them to become extinct.”

Pillsbury had first arrived in Yosemite on his bicycle from Stanford in 1895 along with his cousin, Bernard Lane, and a friend. There, he signed the guest book at the Cosmopolitan. His trip had been motivated by a mention of the glories of the Yosemite by an acquaintance of his mother's, Susan B. Anthony. That year marked Anthony's last trip to the Yosemite, this time without her long time friend and fellow advocate for the rights of women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 
 
Dr. Harriet Foster Pillsbury had gotten her degree in medicine at the Women's Infirmary of New York in 1880, three years before she and her husband, Dr. Harlin Henry Pillsbury, moved their family to Auburn, California, where young Arthur and his brother Ernest, were raised. 
 
Arthur Pillsbury had grown up on the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In the collection of small classics that accompanied him when ever he traveled, were well worn copies of their works. 
 
Arthur's interest in nature began with cataloging plants and studying the ideas of Mendel; using the two microscopes his parents had brought with them to California. The family had also brought a massive library of books on all subjects relating to science. Yosemite was more beauty than Pillsbury had ever imagined possible. He fell in love with the place and all that he saw. 
 
Arthur had begun attending Stanford University with a major in Mechanical Engineering its first year of operation. To earn his tuition he ran a combined photography and bicycle shop near campus. While at Stanford he invented a specimen slicer for microscopic slides and the first circuit panorama camera. Each came into existence to solve a problem he had encountered. The slicer was used for his own microscope and the circuit panorama allowed him to take in the vast spaces he encountered in nature.

While in Yosemite in 1895 Pillsbury had taken photos of the wildflowers. He would later write for his book, “I had still pictures taken of the meadows taken in early days in '95 showing them covered with flowers waist high and the same meadows as they were at this time.” 
 
He had grown up hearing and reading and understanding that world through the lens of science so he used the then exploding technology of photography as his tool for helping others see as well. 
 
Conservation had become a national issue through the bully pulpit of Teddy Roosevelt and the writings of Gifford Pinchot, whose book, “The Fight for Conservation,” framed the political debate on the subject. becoming , along with Herbert Croly's, “The Promise of American Life,” two of just a few books that would frame the Age of Collectivism in America. 
 
Awakening understanding of nature itself and trusting the people to do right was different, contradicting the underlying assumptions of the New Progressivism that a cadre of leaders who 'knew best' should determine the future for everyone. 
 
This became the first confrontation between the knowledge commons, the network, which today in the age of the Internet, we see as allowing individuals to cooperate through persuasion and consensus, and the rigid, top down approach typified by government and corporations. Over the next century the steady increase in human knowledge and the parallel growth of control through the alliance of government and corporations would compromise the very survival of humankind. It was a conflict between individualism and collectivism, open information sources and closed sources. This conflict in organizational structure would define the entire 20th Century. 
 
Today we recognize that sharing knowledge is an essential aspect of freedom. Then, the view that people should know only what made them useful, interchangable cogs, was ascendant and fashionable. 
 
It was a war of ideas that has only recently been decided. 
 
On May 13, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered the opening address, "Conservation as a National Duty," at the outset of a three-day meeting billed as the Governors' Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources. He explained to the attendees that "the occasion for the meeting lies in the fact that the natural resources of our country are in danger of exhaustion if we permit the old wasteful methods of exploiting them longer to continue." The conference propelled conservation issues into the forefront of public consciousness and stimulated a large number of private and state-level conservation initiatives. A new role for government was being forged, one that would prove useful to corporations. 
 
The past was filled with incidents of individuals abusing the environment, but it was nothing to what corporations, with the cooperation of government, would do in the coming years.
Writers such as John Muir were moved by the real and present problems in the Yosemite caused by, “cattlemen, shepherds and land speculators.”

An article from American Park Network reports on Muir's thinking, “One summer, with his trusty mule Brownie, he had traveled extensively in the Sierra Nevada to study the threatened territory. He was exhilarated each time he encountered an alpine meadow of wildflowers but also wondered if their kind would survive to witness the 20th century. His arguments for preserving them included their value as watersheds for the water-dependent San Joaquin Valley agricultural industry. Muir worked ceaselessly to keep Yosemite intact and in its original state. Among his many notable accomplishments, Muir was a charter member and the first president of the Sierra Club which was formed in 1892 to secure federal protection for the Yosemite region. He died on December 24, 1914, at the age of 76. “

Seeing a problem Muir had looked for a solution. But he did so without understanding that the means adopted will mold the future. The 20th Century would be marked by solutions using government to coerce outcomes instead of relying on the use of consensus and persuasion as the tools appropriate to a free people. Muir loved nature but his solutions were based on the idea that only with the intervention of force wielded by government could nature be protected. 
 
The opposite theory that drove a lifetime of inventions for Arthur C. Pillsbury was the observed fact that if people could 'see' the world as it was, with its processes and beauty made visible for them, they would connect to that reality and be moved to understanding and so wish to protect what they saw. 
 
To accomplish the preservation of the wild flowers and open nature to understanding Pillsbury made the first nature movie, built the first lapse-time camera to for plants in 1912, the first microscopic motion picture camera in 1927, the first X-ray motion picture camera and the first Underwater Motion Picture Cameras in 1929 and 1930. He then declined to patent them so that they would always be available to extend our understanding. 
 
Instead of following the usual practices of inventors in his day Arthur C. Pillsbury dedicated all of his cameras to the extension of human understanding. His book, “Picturing Miracles of Plant and Animal Life,” published by Lippincott in 1937 is essentially a manual on how to build your own cameras and achieve the same results. 
 
By do doing he employed action to make a statement about the profit he most valued from his life.
An explosion of understanding resulted. In the first half of the 20th Century insights flowing from the reality of the world of nature provided new approaches in medicine, physics, and every other discipline. Today we talk about the idea that there should be a commons in knowledge, unbound by the limits of individual ownership. Sometimes philosophy is something you live instead of something you just write and talk about. 
 
Ideas adopted by individuals are passed by example and through the flow of our life experiences. Through that steady adoption of ideas through families, educators, and the day to day exchanges of life we compile our culture. 
 
The first nature films were shown on the porch of the Studio in the evenings, starting by 1910. The flickering images were the backdrop to his lecture on the habits of the flowers found in the meadows. This venture into providing a new perspective on the living world would soon be followed by more, using the photography to provide a visceral understanding and appreciation. It helped but still the mowing continued. 
 
He had seen the first lapse-time camera slow down motion at Berkeley. He decided that the same idea could be applied to bringing the motion of the flowers into a human frame of reference. He also realized that the attention span of most people was limited.

“I realized that a scene had to be very dramatic to to hold the interest for over 30 seconds,” Pillsbury wrote in his book; he went on to explain how he had thought out each step in the motion picture process he originated. 
 
When he began work on the lapse-time camera to record the life story of plants, the idea of spending time preserving wild flowers was not on the horizon for those who then thought of themselves as Conservationists. The year was 1912 and the Sierra Club, lead by John Muir, who loved and wrote about flowers himself, was focused on the problem of the Hetch-Hetchy that would keep him busy until his death. Arthur had gotten to know John Muir in the late 1800s, photographing him in Alaska, Yosemite and for the magazine, Camera Craft, in 1900. 

Muir chose Pillsbury's photos for his last book, "The Yosemite," in 1911.
 
The mowing of the meadows was ended after one showing of his first film in 1912. Pillsbury's approach had worked immediately. 
 
You could characterize the work of Arthur C. Pillsbury as the last gasp of individualism, struggling to survive the deluge of collectivism that was then over taking America. Or you could see him as the first to see that technology could bring forth understanding that would, one mind at time, change the world.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Ansel Adams & A. C. Pillsbury - Discovered Insights

First in a Series


Presented by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster and Charlotte Kieltyka


The photo below, taken at the home of Arthur C. Pillsbury in Oakland, California around 1918-20, is from my Aunt Grace's album. She predeceased my father, Dr. Arthur F. Pillsbury, by several years, dying August 12, 1979. Aunt Grace, like others at the Studio of the Three Arrows, usually did not bother to take her own photos. It was easier to print those she wanted out of the thousands stored there for use in a system which was both numeric and descriptive. 
 
Exactly like these, which held nitrate film and were purchased by Rick Norsigian along with the glass negatives he found at a garage sale in Fresno, California in 2000.  Leroy Radonovich told me Pillsbury was the only photographer of that era in Yosemite, Leroy's area specialization, who had a collection numbering more than a few hundred images.  As you see, the numbers here are 8033, Seagull; 8072, Yosemite from Meadow; 8013, Valley View Yos; 8104, Gates of the Valley; 8087, Tuolumne Canyon from Glacier Point; 8067, Overhanging Rock & Half Dome Schap; 8052, Yosemite from Camp Ahwanee (sp); 8057, Yosemite Fall from river; 8066, Three Brothers morning; Monterey Point V.D. neg; 8108, Happy Illes.  The spelling is atrocious, which points to Pillsbury as the writer.  
 
Family photos in the archive were supposed to have the identifying number stamped on the back, when printed.

The archive in Yosemite included family photos of the kids growing up there and photos from the workshops which Pillsbury was putting on from the time his son, my father, Arthur F. Pillsbury, was around 12 - 14. This photo would have been at the Oakland lab facility, in the smaller collection as well as in Grace's album. There is no number on the reverse but Grace signed her name. In this shot Arthur F. is around 16.

Ansel Adams appears in the photo below. He also appears in photos from photographic workshops given by Arthur C. Pillsbury from the period.

These pages place Ansel Adams through family photos, photos available through the Harry Pidgeon Collection located in Fresno, California, and images from the estate of Mildred Clemens during the shadowy period from 1916 - 1927 which is only lightly touched on in the Adams Autobiography, "Ansel Adams, an Autobiography," written by Ansel Adams and Mary Street Alinder, published by Little, Brown and Company, 1985, hard cover edition, paperback edition, 1996. Pillsbury is barely mentioned in the Adams autobiography, receiving not even a place in the book's index.

Did Adams know Arthur C. Pillsbury? Why yes, very well, according to this letter written by Ansel Adams in 1978.


   For the rest of the story go HERE.

Friday, November 14, 2014

No. 123 – November 13, 2014 – A Mystery and Photographer George Fiske




by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster




Everyone knew George was not well and was experiencing intense pain. Hoping for his recovery they were saddened when he shot himself on October 20, 1918.

His still existing collection of glass negatives was acquired by Curry Company, soon to be the Yosemite Park and Curry Company, YP & CC in 1923. Most of his collection had been lost in a fire which destroyed his studio and cameras in 1904.

As a photographer Fiske, had earned the esteem of the international community who had viewed the haunting beauty of his work.

One of these photos, among the most famous, was titled, “Half Dome on Christmas Morning.” The image was titled, “The Domes of Yosemite in Winter,” when it appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1902.

The image shows Half Dome, draped in snow with winter closed in around it. The image is haunting in its poignant power, the stillness of the moment sinks into the mind as you view it. It is also unmistakable. Mountains do not change. The configuration of snow and leaves in the foreground are never the same. A later image would have revealed human artifacts.

The glass plates remaining in Fiske's depleted collection when he died was sold to Curry Company. In the early 30's the collection of Julius Theodore Boysen, another early Yosemite photographer, also acquired by Curry, was stored with it. But in 1934 a fire enveloped the barn and these early images were lost. At least we thought so. Now, the jury is out on this question.

Caches of glass plates and early film have been surfacing.

Rick Norsigian, a house painter from Fresno bought a box of negatives at a garage sale. Looking through the box he was was astonished at the beauty of the images, mostly of Yosemite. Hoping they were by Ansel Adams he launched an effort to have them recognized by the Adams family, which ended in a settlement with the Adams estate in 2010.

The same year a Fiske, undoubtedly the famous Half Dome on Christmas Morning image surfaced from the stored work of another, nearly unknown, photographer. J. M. Garrison. The image came with the accounting for sale of the image, for use as a post card, by the Yosemite Park & Curry Co., dated December 10, 1958.

It is a mystery now resolving into answers, piece by piece. Expect the unexpected and remember George Fiske.



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

SPECIAL - Real History that changed the world.


Glimpses into the world of Arthur C. Pillsbury – Unexpected Connections through Time. 

THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR,
WASHINGTON
March 22, 1926

President Calvin Coolidge
First Lady, Grace Coolidge
My Dear Mr. Pillsbury:
The Washington Star said that -
Nothing has stood out more distinctly than the dinner given by Dr. Work a week ago at the Willard. The guests numbered about 70, and the dinner being followed by colored pictures showing the life of a flower from its first seeding until it bloomed into full-grown beauty and then dropped its petals.”
Mrs. Coolidge was profoundly impressed with the Pictures.
Please allow me to express my personal appreciation of your courtesy in this connection.
                           With assurance of personal regards, I remain,
                                                                                       Very truly yours,
                                                                                       HERBERT WORK.”

March 18, 1926.
Dear Mr. Pillsbury:
Secretary Work has received so much commendation of your picture shown at his dinner for the President that he is now very anxious to have you repeat this showing at his formal dinner for the British Ambassador on April 7 and has asked me to get in touch with you and see if you could be in Washington for this date.
                                                                                           Sincerely yours,
                                                                                           (Signed) STEPHEN T. MATHER,
                                                                                           Director.”


 
Willard Hotel
The dinner and program were by invitation only. Seventy people were present for the event at the Willard Hotel, located at 1401 Pennsylvania Ave, just down the street from the White House.

The term “lobbyist” was coined in the Willard's lobby by Ulysses S. Grant.

Secretary of the Interior, Dr. Hubert A. Work gave the dinner and, looking for something special, followed a suggestion from Stephen Mather, then returned from another one of his emotional breakdowns, and carrying on, as usual, as Director of the new National Parks Service.

Mather had suggested his best choice for something not to be forgotten was to engage Arthur C. Pillsbury to give a lecture and show show his films. Pillsbury was also the Official Photographer for Yosemite and had been granted a long term concession in the Park because his speaking tours had been of enormous assistance to Mather in making the Parks profitable. Pillsbury had done the same for the Sierra Club, along with photographing their High Trips for twenty years.

One detail which escaped history is whether or not Mather, himself, was at the event.

But those attending went away with heads reeling. Grace Coolidge was quoted as saying, “she was profoundly impressed with the Pictures.”

Looking back it is hard to imagine the impact on how you view the world when you suddenly see something you think you understand, differently.  MORE

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Volume 4. No. 2 Spring - Summer 2009

The Knowledge Commons: How sharing changed the world
The first Nature Center Centennial – Yosemite Valley 1910
by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

Today all of us are familiar with nature centers. We know there will be photos, illustrations, exhibits, items we can buy that allow us to better understand the world of nature and the history that accompanies it, usually specific to that location. Nature centers came from the idea that it would be well if we understood the natural world, being a part of it. The year after next will mark the centennial of the modern nature center, an event to be celebrated.
We take for granted those educational resources, familiar with their use of movies, lectures, specimens to explain to the curious the natural world. That was not the case a century ago.
The first such center was located near the Yosemite Chapel next to what was once the road that turned towards the Valley wall. Now that 'road' runs through the parking lot there. There is no marker. That first nature center occupied the small space alloted to the Studio of the Three Arrows, owned by Arthur C. Pillsbury, who had always been fascinated by the world of nature and saw the need to save the wild flowers then being mowed in the meadows of Yosemite. He could have protested, gathered petitions and appealed to Congress. Instead he decided that if people could 'see' the world of nature in all of its beauty and complexity they would love it, understand their connection, and ensure its survival.
Pillsbury said in his book, “Picturing Miracles of Plant and Animal Life,” published in 1937, “One of the first reactions of seeing a reel of flowers growing and opening was to instill a love for them, a realization of their life struggles so similar to ours, and to wish to do something to stop the ruthless destruction of them which was fast causing them to become extinct.”
Pillsbury had first arrived in Yosemite on his bicycle from Stanford in 1895 along with his cousin, Bernard Lane, and a friend. There, he signed the guest book at the Cosmopolitan. His trip had been motivated by a mention of the glories of the Yosemite by an acquaintance of his mother's, Susan B. Anthony. That year marked Anthony's last trip to the Yosemite, this time without her long time friend and fellow advocate for the rights of women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Dr. Harriet Foster Pillsbury had gotten her degree in medicine at the Women's Infirmary of New York in 1880, three years before she and her husband, Dr. Harlin Henry Pillsbury, moved their family to Auburn, California, where young Arthur and his brother Ernest, were raised.
Arthur Pillsbury had grown up on the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In the collection of small classics that accompanied him when ever he traveled, were well worn copies of their works.
Arthur's interest in nature began with cataloging plants and studying the ideas of Mendel; using the two microscopes his parents had brought with them to California. The family had also brought a massive library of books on all subjects relating to science. Yosemite was more beauty than Pillsbury had ever imagined possible. He fell in love with the place and all that he saw.
Arthur had begun attending Stanford University with a major in Mechanical Engineering its first year of operation. To earn his tuition he ran a combined photography and bicycle shop near campus. While at Stanford he invented a specimen slicer for microscopic slides and the first circuit panorama camera. Each came into existence to solve a problem he had encountered. The slicer was used for his own microscope and the circuit panorama allowed him to take in the vast spaces he encountered in nature.
While in Yosemite in 1895 Pillsbury had taken photos of the wildflowers. He would later write for his book, “I had still pictures taken of the meadows taken in early days in '95 showing them covered with flowers waist high and the same meadows as they were at this time.”
He had grown up hearing and reading and understanding that world through the lens of science so he used the then exploding technology of photography as his tool for helping others see as well.
Conservation had become a national issue through the bully pulpit of Teddy Roosevelt and the writings of Gifford Pinchot, whose book, “The Fight for Conservation,” framed the political debate on the subject. becoming , along with Herbert Croly's, “The Promise of American Life,” two of just a few books that would frame the Age of Collectivism in America.
Awakening understanding of nature itself and trusting the people to do right was different, contradicting the underlying assumptions of the New Progressivism that a cadre of leaders who 'knew best' should determine the future for everyone.
This became the first confrontation between the knowledge commons, the network, which today in the age of the Internet, we see as allowing individuals to cooperate through persuasion and consensus, and the rigid, top down approach typified by government and corporations. Over the next century the steady increase in human knowledge and the parallel growth of control through the alliance of government and corporations would compromise the very survival of humankind. It was a conflict between individualism and collectivism, open information sources and closed sources. This conflict in organizational structure would define the entire 20th Century.
Today we recognize that sharing knowledge is an essential aspect of freedom. Then, the view that people should know only what made them useful, interchangable cogs, was ascendant and fashionable.
It was a war of ideas that has only recently been decided.
On May 13, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered the opening address, "Conservation as a National Duty," at the outset of a three-day meeting billed as the Governors' Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources. He explained to the attendees that "the occasion for the meeting lies in the fact that the natural resources of our country are in danger of exhaustion if we permit the old wasteful methods of exploiting them longer to continue." The conference propelled conservation issues into the forefront of public consciousness and stimulated a large number of private and state-level conservation initiatives. A new role for government was being forged, one that would prove useful to corporations.
The past was filled with incidents of individuals abusing the environment, but it was nothing to what corporations, with the cooperation of government, would do in the coming years.
Writers such as John Muir were moved by the real and present problems in the Yosemite caused by, “cattlemen, shepherds and land speculators.”
An article from American Park Network reports on Muir's thinking, “One summer, with his trusty mule Brownie, he had traveled extensively in the Sierra Nevada to study the threatened territory. He was exhilarated each time he encountered an alpine meadow of wildflowers but also wondered if their kind would survive to witness the 20th century. His arguments for preserving them included their value as watersheds for the water-dependent San Joaquin Valley agricultural industry. Muir worked ceaselessly to keep Yosemite intact and in its original state. Among his many notable accomplishments, Muir was a charter member and the first president of the Sierra Club which was formed in 1892 to secure federal protection for the Yosemite region. He died on December 24, 1914, at the age of 76. “
Seeing a problem Muir had looked for a solution. But he did so without understanding that the means adopted will mold the future. The 20th Century would be marked by solutions using government to coerce outcomes instead of relying on the use of consensus and persuasion as the tools appropriate to a free people. Muir loved nature but his solutions were based on the idea that only with the intervention of force wielded by government could nature be protected.
The opposite theory that drove a lifetime of inventions for Arthur C. Pillsbury was the observed fact that if people could 'see' the world as it was, with its processes and beauty made visible for them, they would connect to that reality and be moved to understanding and so wish to protect what they saw.
To accomplish the preservation of the wild flowers and open nature to understanding Pillsbury made the first nature movie, built the first lapse-time camera to for plants in 1912, the first microscopic motion picture camera in 1927, the first X-ray motion picture camera and the first Underwater Motion Picture Cameras in 1929 and 1930. He then declined to patent them so that they would always be available to extend our understanding.
Instead of following the usual practices of inventors in his day Arthur C. Pillsbury dedicated all of his cameras to the extension of human understanding. His book, “Picturing Miracles of Plant and Animal Life,” published by Lippincott in 1937 is essentially a manual on how to build your own cameras and achieve the same results.
By do doing he employed action to make a statement about the profit he most valued from his life.
An explosion of understanding resulted. In the first half of the 20th Century insights flowing from the reality of the world of nature provided new approaches in medicine, physics, and every other discipline. Today we talk about the idea that there should be a commons in knowledge, unbound by the limits of individual ownership. Sometimes philosophy is something you live instead of something you just write and talk about.
Ideas adopted by individuals are passed by example and through the flow of our life experiences. Through that steady adoption of ideas through families, educators, and the day to day exchanges of life we compile our culture.
The first nature films were shown on the porch of the Studio in the evenings, starting by 1910. The flickering images were the backdrop to his lecture on the habits of the flowers found in the meadows. This venture into providing a new perspective on the living world would soon be followed by more, using the photography to provide a visceral understanding and appreciation. It helped but still the mowing continued.
He had seen the first lapse-time camera slow down motion at Berkeley. He decided that the same idea could be applied to bringing the motion of the flowers into a human frame of reference. He also realized that the attention span of most people was limited.
I realized that a scene had to be very dramatic to to hold the interest for over 30 seconds,” Pillsbury wrote in his book; he went on to explain how he had thought out each step in the motion picture process he originated.
When he began work on the lapse-time camera to record the life story of plants, the idea of spending time preserving wild flowers was not on the horizon for those who then thought of themselves as Conservationists. The year was 1912 and the Sierra Club, lead by John Muir, who loved and wrote about flowers himself, was focused on the problem of the Hetch-Hetchy that would keep him busy until his death. Arthur had gotten to know John Muir in the late 1800s, photographing him in Yosemite and for the magazine, Camera Craft, in 1900.
The mowing of the meadows was ended after one showing of his first film in 1912. Pillsbury's approach had worked immediately.
You could characterize the work of Arthur C. Pillsbury as the last gasp of individualism, struggling to survive the deluge of collectivism that was then over taking America. Or you could see him as the first to see that technology could bring forth understanding that would, one mind at time, change the world.
Celebrate the Studio of the Three Arrows, April 1, 2010.