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.