Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jesse Halsey on Photography | c1945

I have had spells of photographic zeal. Most of the boys in my high school group had Premo B8x and took good pictures. Finances did not permit such extravagances at our house. In later years, I made up for it. I had a camera most of the time during the First World War when I went round the world, but most of the film was injured in the developing. One excellent picture of a Laplander’s hut with fireplace reindeer and children all in one room remains. Pictures by my friends of our boy-hood camping are not uncommon. In the years of our travel by Ford back and forth from Cincinnati to Long Island, I took innumerable pictures with a big 5x7 that had a Goerz lens and required focusing with a black cloth, real photographer style. And I made some good pictures trying to relate them to persons of note. For example, Wm. Henry Harrison’s tomb is at Great Bend near Cincinnati, one year as we drove east I planned the route to include his birthplace and other places and buildings connected with his life or that of his family.

We visited and photographed many places connected with Stonewall Jackson—his birth place, the Military Academy in or near Lexington where he taught, his monument in the Lexington cemetery, the house where he died at Guinea Station. We drove out to the Chancellorsville battlefield and in and around the Wilderness (much to the disgust of my children), and at the moment where he was mistakenly shot by his own soldiers, we found the monument surrounded by sand piles and tar barrels for road repair. That night I wrote a letter of protest to the Richmond Times-Dispatch and signed it “Damnedyankee.” When we came back in the fall, the tar barrels were gone and the plot neatly seeded.

Often, we camped out on the Gettysburg field. In the Devil’s Den there was a pump and level place where we could pitch our tent. On one July night, a thunder storm came up, blew down our tent and the three children in their undies were herded under the fallen flapping canvas drug shop in Fredericksburg and his monument on Princeton Battlesfield where he was killed. Places and persons very many—all recorded on good film reposing in my study file. In the last minute haste of moving to Chicago, these films, every one of them, went out with a ton of outer papers from my study—to the junk man; never recovered. 
This was the end of any vigorous photographic interest. One time when I was focusing on the old State House in Corodon, Indiana, a gentleman came along and invited me into a second story room opposite the capitol where I could get a better picture. I had an old camera with me and as I set it up in his window, I apologized for it. He remarked, half to himself—“tere’s many a man makes his livin’ with a poorer box than that!” He was the village photographer.

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