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.

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