2 by Thomas Yanul
PAGE 2 by Thomas Yanul
Its the feeling of the author that this type of photography has its roots dating back to one photographer, Philip Henry Delamotte (1820-1889).
As an early Calotype photographer, Delamotte's artistic bent was utilized to portray architecture's engineering aspects with the Crystal Palace removal from London and re-construction at Sydenham in 1854. Hired to photograph the re-construction, Delamotte produced magnificent photographs that represented the industrial revolution's mechanics as art.
It was a trend that was evident in the 1889 Paris exposition as photographed by Albert Chevojon, who became a force in the photographic firm of Delmaet-Durandelle in 1886, plying his craft during the construction of the Tour Eiffel and many other magnificent engineering structures that debuted at this fair. Chevojon brought the art of photographing engineering as design to a new high using large format cameras and modern papers.
Something that C.D. Arnold again advanced, primarily because of modern materials such as platiumum prints which brought this type of architectural/engineering photography to a zenith.
Fairs would never again see such monumental structures built and so this type of exposition photography came to an end.
And it is still celebrated to this day by scholar and collector, professional historian and amateur buff. Aside from the social aspects of the fair, there are two things that propell this memory; the physical remnants in the form of souvineers,coins, brochures, and the like.
And of course the items that create a stirring visual excitement, the photographs.
There is something peculiar about the photographic image that moves people differently than painting, engraving, or other mechanical manifestation as a representation of something or someone. It was evident in Daguerres' time and remains so today. We have all seen lovely engravings, water colors and depictions of the Columbian Exposition, many are elegant and delightful.
But in the end, to know in my minds-eye what the fair looked like, I want to see those grand, large platinum prints by C.D. Arnold. To be in a room full of these gorgious prints is not exactly the same, but the closest thing to having been there. It is the photographs that live. They give us an inkling of what it must have felt like to actually stand in the presence of this grand illusion as the apptly named Chicago Historical Society's 1993 centennial celebration book on the fair so aptly put it. And of course so many publications were produced then, and continue being made now, that utilize literally thousands of Exposition photos. Many of which were not Arnolds, but photographers hired by individual consessions, exhibitors, governments, and just plain folks who"kodacked" at the fair. There seems to be an endless supply of images, many newly discovered in family albums and attic archives. All provide sustenance for a seemingly insatiable appetite.
But the motherlode of views remains the big platinums of Arnold.
At the end of the fair Daniel Burnham remarked thatArnold (as construction photographer and Official Photography bureau) created 15,000 negatives.
If you do the arithmatic, taking three full years as a rough divider (1891-92-93) thats 13.69 photos per day for three years ! And of course if you take out rainy days, overcast days, days in the first years when there was little to photograph, you come to see the enormity of this task. Plus, these are view camera images, not 35mm Nikons with a 100 image roll inside. Processing is in poorly heated or non-airconditioned facilities (and of course Arnold had no "facilities" as such until his building was completed in October of 1892, nearly two years after he started making photographs).
Arnold also apparently comes on board as a lone photographer for some time, adding one assistant at some point. And then there still are only two people working taking photos up to at least October 1892. Then you must add to the mix of responsibilities his trips to New York and other cities to photographs artisans at work in their studios (not all work was done on the fairgrounds since there literally was no place to work from) and Arnold was called upon frequently to travel to provide visual updates on the progress of these artists and also to provide materials for the publicity and promotion department, architects and planners, etc. He also made glass lantern slides for various promotional activities in many States and foreign countries.
I can't list all the things that as a photographer he was responsible for.
But to go on, there was records and bookkeeping, ordering his own supplies, shipping and labelling, processing and printing, and of course the everpresent meetings and discussions. Arnold was also responsible once the fair started to become organized - before the opening - for making contracts with others (Gibson for portraits and pass photos, and Kilburn for stereo rights), getting his building designed and built, moving in, setting up, and the list is endless.
This matter, if one actually sits and thinks about it, is absolutely overwhelming.
How did he get it all done and still have time to make thousands of photographs ?
And if you do in fact take all this into consideration, how is it possible that some professional historian can make a comment about "why did Arnold make this photograph from this position ? What was he trying to tell us about the inclusion of power of the people who organized and built this fair" ? Or something to that effect. Social historians get a bit carried away with their own reflections....
I would venture that every building on those grounds must have been photographed from every angle available. And given that you only have a short time to shoot some facades (north facing time very limited for sun in this meridian), given both the time of day and the time of the year. (aside from inclement weather!) And of course there are only a given number of places to shoot from. The ground, balconies of other buildings, rooftops and so on. No hydraulic lifts or helicopters. You shoot a building from a certain vantage point because thats whats available.
Arnold was hired to make a record, not create an artisitic movement. He was obviously trained or taught himself, the standard classically accepted tenents of style, of massing, of line, of composition. And that obviously is what he attempted to fullfill as a photographer. My personal impression is that he suceeded in accomplishing his task in an artfull yet practical manner.
In the next two fairs that Arnold participated in as photographer, the Cotton States of 1895 and the Pan-American of 1901, neither was recorded as grandly (with big platinums) as was the case at the Columbian. I don't think it going out on a limb too far to say it was simply a matter of time and expense. Big cameras, big glass negatives and big platinum printing was both labor intensive and expensive. The Cotton States Fair was obviously not of the economic stature to warrant such matters, and economics and age might have played a role in his not doing it to any great extent at the Pan-American. (but there does seems to be many 8x10" platinums of the Pan-American, so I guess Arnold was making up for the poor quality of many albumins from the Col. Expo., which is a production problem more than anything else - if the gold-toning is good the albumins are fine, but who could watch 100 or so employees everyday in their job?)
Arnold was 57 years old when the Pan-am came along and, I know from whence I speak, carrying that kind of equipment around is not a picnic - at any age ! Although I don't know of specifics on big platinums regards the Pan-Am, most people I talk to have seen none, and some say a few. I have a 16x20 platinum of the Electric Tower, and that is the only one I have seen. In other words, they exist in very small numbers. Arnold no longer had to "prove" himself through this mechanism...he had already done it at the Columbian, and I think he felt that would stand by itself as a measure of his ability and professionalism. Some things are just too difficult to repeat often.
William Rau of Philadelphia comes to mind. Rau's giant swing-lens panoramic camera created spectacular images but after a few years of struggling with that behometh he set it aside pretty much in favor of his hand-held stereo. Maybe economics was a prime factor, but I can't help think that plain old back-breaking hard work played a role in his decisions.
A point to make here also is that all of Arnold's camera equipment bought for work during the Exposition was property of the Columbian Exposition Company and was disposed of at the close of the fair to help pay back expenses due them. It was part of the contract. So in order for Arnold to have done large work, new camera equipment would have had to be purchased, unless he already owned such pieces, which doesn't seem to be the fact from his past work.
He may have borrowed a camera, which I believe he did at the Columbian (using a Scovil swing lens panoramic camera) but to purchase something for a very limited time wouldn't have been economically feasable at these later fairs.
I suppose this page sounds more like an introduction rather than 'a continuation of the previous page on construction photography, but my feelings about how complicated this job was has to be inserted here for readers to understand my point of view. This was not just a matter of going out and taking some photos, it was a major business undertaking of hugh proportions. I believe it is from this point of view that Arnold's work must be understood, and all the more valued for what he accomplished.
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Models, workmen, sculptor ?
Col.Expo. - Undated
6x8" platinum print.
Courtesy Higinbotham Family
As the owner of probably the largest archive of the Official Portrait photographer's paperwork (which came from the Gibson family) I have a fair idea of what hiring help for the studio was like. In almost daily letters to his wife in Ann Arbor, Michigan, J.J.Gibson often spoke of the difficulty in getting "operators", (cameramen) to come to work at the fair. He literally was writing people all over the country trying to hire them, but most turned him down since the fair was only a six month affair and their own businesses would suffer greatly in their absence. Retouchers were also in great demand and the work often had to be farmed out to other studios in Chicago and elsewhere.
Gibson would often send crates of negs to be worked on at his Ann Arbor studio.
Arnold's operation was certainly as large or larger than Gibson's so I assume he had difficulty also.