Camera Workers: The British Columbia Photographic Directory, 1858-1950 - Introduction

Copyright 1999-2021 By David Mattison

Introduction to Volume 1, 1858-1900 (revised for volume 2, 1901-1950 and for the electronic edition published on the World Wide Web, 1999-present)
Updated: 2021.09.18

Camera Workers was the name of a Vancouver studio operated by George Schenck and George C. Fricke between 1909 and 1912. That name was one of my inspirations for the research and writing of this book. The history of photography has usually ignored the darkroom workers in favour of the photographers themselves. Many photographers, however, began their careers as printers, retouchers or finishers. The very first photographers, on the other hand, were their own technicians and laboured under very trying circumstances. Frederick Dally, for one, confronted rattlesnakes in the arid Thompson River country, while husband and wife photographers Richard and Hannah (Mrs. Richard) Maynard on different occasions found themselves the subject of unwanted hostility on the part of native Indians who did not wish to have themselves photographed.

The greatest need of photographers up to the late 1870s was clean, fresh water. The technology between the late 1850s and the 1870s required an on-the-spot application of light-sensitive emulsion to a plate of glass and its subsequent exposure and development all while still moist. The water supply as well as the chemicals had to be fresh or the results would be less than perfect. Some of Charles Gentile's photographs exhibit processing problems traceable to his handling of the emulsion -- the chemical mixture, known as collodion, had to be poured evenly on to the glass plate. Francis G. Claudet in June 1860 suffered with old chemicals and a camera loaned him by Dr. A.R. Benson of Nanaimo still, Claudet managed to get a "passable" photograph of Nanaimo.

The studio photographers and their darkroom counterparts, if the former could afford them, may have had the comforts of a pure water supply, but some suffered ill health from the effects of breathing the various chemicals over many years. It was reported upon J.D. Hall's retirement from photography that "he finds [the business] injurious to his health in consequence of the close confinement involved" (World, 17 May 1892). Yet H.G. Neelands, who quit his partnership with C.S. Bailey "on account of ill health" (World, 12 December 1890), found himself back in business as a photographer with his brothers in Nelson for another five or six years.

The photographic tradition in British Columbia emerged from five varying sources: survey work along the 49th parallel beginning in 1858 by the Royal Engineers visits by naval officers to Esquimalt, some of whom, such as Lieutenant Richard Roche, carried a camera; the studio photographers who set up first in Victoria and then in mainland centres such as New Westminster, Kamloops and Vancouver; and the visiting photographers, both amateurs and professionals, who must be distinguished from the final source; the itinerant or travelling professional whose primary purpose was portrait-taking in towns and settlements that could not support a full-time photographer.

Camera Workers is an attempt to provide as much information as possible about commercial landscape and portrait photographers who worked in or visited British Columbia, Canada, in the 19th century. In addition to commercial photographers, some amateurs whose photographs are extant or for whom references were located accidentally are included. No effort was made to systematically identify all amateurs, no doubt a futile task in any case because of the widespread use of the camera towards the end of the last century. The National Photography Collection (Library and Archives Canada) completed its amateur photographers project with the exhibit (1983) and publication of Private Realms of Light (1984); the latter is cited in my bibliography as Koltun (1984). Much more information on amateurs across Canada is now available at the Library and Archives Canada.

Camera Workers includes information I felt was relevant to providing a picture of a photographer's life. The data fields are patterned after a project begun at the International Museum of Photography, Rochester, New York. A survey I conducted of selected archives and museums in British Columbia indicated a desire to have information available on how the photographers identified their work. Several respondents also wished to know what formats or styles as well as what subject matter the photographers worked in and displayed in their images.

In the mid-1980s I felt this latter information was beyond the scope of Camera Workers. The format is often self-evident dependent on the time period, while subject matter would be available through consulting the Guide to Canadian Photographic Archives (Ottawa: Public Archives of Canada, 1984). Where a photographer is identified with a specific and unusual format such as stereographs or postcards, this information is included as part of the COLLECTIONS/FORMAT field. If you wish to know more about identifying and dating photographs through a knowledge of the many different photographic processes, please consult any one of the many books and articles on this topic. The principal function of Camera Workers remains to add the dimension of the photographer to the identification and dating process.

An explanation of each data field follows. For volume 1 of Camera Workers (1858-1900), all fields have been included except for VARIANT [name] where none is known, BUSINESS ADDRESS/YEAR which does not apply to amateur photographers unless they turned commercial, and HOME ADDRESS/YEAR for studios and visiting photographers. All place names unless otherwise specified are located in British Columbia. Field names preceded by an asterisk have been indexed.

For volume 2 of Camera Workers (1901-1950), which was drawn from a checklist I prepared and circulated to individuals and institutions, the information is far less extensive, often incomplete, and frequently unverified or uncorroborated. As information is verified and added to entries in volume 2, the entry is reformatted to correspond with those in volume 1 and added to the genealogy software database I use to maintain the current version of Camera Workers. Volume 2 is therefore even more of a work in progress than volume 1.

NAME: The fullest and most accurate form of name was searched for. Only certain records, as explained below, were examined.

*VARIANT: Where two or more forms of name have been given, the second and sometimes third form is listed. In the case of women this would include the family or the married name where the woman was married or single.

LIFE DATES: Birth (when available), marriage and death registration records of the BC Vital Statistics Agency, Ministry of Health, are searchable through the BC Archives Web site. Many of these registration records are available as digital facsimiles at no cost. These are being added as time permits. Dates were culled from sources listed in the bibliographic references.

BIRTHPLACE: Sources are given in the bibliographic references.

PLACE OF DEATH: Probate files in the BC Archives were consulted to determine this information for those known to have died in the province. The Vital Statistics Agency death registration index on the BC Archives Web site is also being consulted.

*WHERE ACTIVE: No attempt was made to detail every single location in the province visited by a photographer, or locations outside BC for photographers who visited. All towns and city names in which photographers worked on a permanent basis in BC have been listed. Locations outside BC have not been indexed.

*BUSINESS ADDRESS/YEAR: This information was taken from business directories and newspaper advertisements but was not verified except in a few cases through fire insurance maps, tax assessment rolls, or photographic evidence. Business addresses of commercial photographers for the cities of New Westminster, Vancouver and Victoria have been indexed where no business address was located, the home address of commercial photographers was used in the index. No business addresses or home addresses have been included for amateur photographers in the three cities.

HOME ADDRESS/YEAR: The photographic worker's place of residence was obtained from business directories, newspaper advertisements and the lists of voters. Only the home addresses of amateurs has been recorded where known or readily available.

*WORK INTERVAL: The dates represented here are those during which each photographer was active in British Columbia. For many commercial photographers whose careers ended at or a few years after 1900, the final year is shown. Photographers whose careers began in the 1899-1900 period are represented in volume 1 and volume 2 covers 1900-1950. Photographers in volume 1 for whom dates are shown as, for example 1891-1900+, will have their entry linked volume 2. The dates should be accurate to within a year on either side of the dates shown.

STATUS: The categories are commercial, amateur, photojournalist, institutional, studio, printer, retoucher, finisher, and club. These may be modified by the descriptors (visit), (itinerant), or (assistant).

BIOGRAPHICAL SUMMARY: No attempt was made to research or write about every aspect of a photographer's career. By consulting the bibliographic references, a reader can obtain further information from my own sources. Copies of most correspondence from my informants have been placed in a series of reference files on BC photographers maintained by the BC Archives.

COLLECTIONS/FORMAT & IDENTIFYING MARKS: Only photographers are represented by this information. Cross references have been made in some cases from a photographer's personal name to the name of a studio. A list of abbreviations explains the meaning of each term found in the collections field. At the time of Camera Worker's first publication in 1985, the Guide to Canadian Photographic Archives (1984) was the union list to public photograph collections in Canada. Since it is not my intention to document every location of negatives or prints, the listings in Camera Workers are given only as a convenience.

The Internet and the World-Wide Web have presented new opportunities for documenting the existence of photographic holdings. MemoryBC: the BC Archival Union List is now the principal union list to public photograph collections, but only covers BC archival holdings in archives, libraries, museums and galleries. The Archives Association of BC, which established and manages MemoryBC, was kind enough to grant me permission to quote from its entries for photographers and studios represented in insitutions around the province. Other archival union lists can be found through Archives Canada.ca: Canadian Archival Information Network, developed by the Canadian Council of Archives.

*BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES: The most important sources were business directories and voters' lists. Photograph collection digitization projects at various archival institutions around the world and accessible through the World-Wide Web also make it possible to directly examine the photographs and catalogue records, if they exist, for information about photographers. The newspapers provided extensive references, but not every single known mention of a photographer's activities has been recorded here. Newspaper citations are chiefly recorded in either the ISO date standard of Year/Month/Day followed by a page number, if known, or as day-month-year. No attempt was made to arrange the citations other than chronologically under the type of reference. Archival (unpublished) records are normally cited first, then published accounts, followed by correspondence with the author (David Mattison). A short form of citation to published materials has been used: in the case of books the author's surname and date of publication and sometimes a page reference with magazine articles the publication's title or the author's name have been used. Every effort was made to ensure the accuracy of this information.

A reporting form is available to assist me in providing you and other researchers with more accurate biographical information. All contributions will be acknowledged in the bibliographic references of future editions.