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May 8, 2012 > History: Photographers and Photography

History: Photographers and Photography

The photo of Mission San Jose taken by C.E. Watkins in 1853 is apparently our oldest surviving photograph. The white cross was placed in the picture later by E. L. Beard to mark his residence.

The History of Alameda County published by William Halley in 1876 is described by the author as "the first local literary production, beyond the newspaper, directory and pamphlet, that has ever been offered to the people of Alameda County." Mr. Halley wrote that the book was "illustrated with numerous engravings." However, most of the illustrations are advertisements that were necessary to fund the book. One of the advertisements is by Wm. B. Ingersoll, an Oakland photographer, who featured "all styles of Pictures known to the art."

The Historical Atlas of Alameda County published by Thomas Thompson and Albert West in 1878 does not explain much about the illustrations in the atlas, but the 1976 Bicentennial Edition notes that the "birds-eye lithographs" accurately detail the subject. They were "done on stone and compare favorably with later photographs. Artists were advertised as "the best" but usually remained anonymous. Sometimes this perspective was questionable; there was a constant temptation to depict fashionable people playing croquet or on promenades.

The History of Alameda County published by M. W. Wood in 1883 contains biographical sketches of Early and Prominent Citizens and Representative Men. It has no reference to "Representative Women." The book is labeled "illustrated" which refers to over 90 photos of prominent men. There is no section for prominent women.

The Special Edition of the Washington Press published at Irvington in September 1898 by E. B. Thompson, editor and proprietor, is appropriately labeled "Illustrated." Thompson noted that, "Nearly all of the photographs from which the half-tones for this issue were made were taken by H. E. Kelley, an employee of the Press office. No better evidence wanted of the young man's ability in the line than the clearness of the pictures, fine perspective and general excellence."

It is evident that when pictures became a regular part of newspapers, editors either took their own photos or had staff members do it for them. The Illustrated Volume of Alameda County in 1898 provides no clue to the photos but at least indicates that it is "illustrated". Others, such as the Advancement Edition of the 1910 Township, provide no clues to the source of the photos.

The cover of the "Sesquicentennial Book of Mission San Jose," published by the Washington Press in 1947, features a picture drawn by Jerry Browning. The editor, George H. Oakes, provided a photo of the staff "who put out the big edition." Elizabeth Sloan, Angie Bettencourt, Karl and Zurilda Wyatt were recognized as staff members. On another page, Editor Oakes credited Mr. Stinhilver (known as Buster) for "his fine work in taking the pictures for the book. Oakes noted, "He did a splendid job. He hired an airplane several times to take aerial views of the big industrial plants in Niles and Newark that were so extensive that ground views didn't tell their importance. His work on this book will put him down as a splendid photographer, and equals the work we have experienced in experts in the big cities."

Stinhilver had a photography business in a nearby studio on Fremont Avenue (now Peralta). He was one of the first regular photographers and studio owners in our area. He also was a master painter.

The Washingtonian, published by Washington Union High School, contained many photos from the 1920's on, but it was usually difficult to determine who took the pictures, except for the year 1936. "This year the staff was fortunate in having two amateur photographers, Robert Salz and Donald Lamons, who, assisted by Anthony Monte, took the pictures." On days when important events, like Initiation Day, Moving Day and May Day were to take place, the boys brought their cameras to school.

Traveling photographers visited Washington Township occasionally. A "photographer from the East" came to Washington Corners (now Irvington) in June 1875 taking pictures for two weeks. Photographer A. E. Dart was reported to be there three years later in May 1878. These traveling photographers were gradually replaced by cameras and film that made it possible for ordinary citizens to take their own pictures.

The History of Washington Township published by John S. Sandoval in 1985 contains a list of over 5o illustrations. Some of the advertising literature about the book notes that it contains 75 illustrations. Sources of a number of the photos are not recognized, but the names of the original photograph of John C. Fremont taken by civil war photographer, Mathew Brady, taken at the time of Fremont's presidential campaign, is noted.

Photographers listed in a 1957 business directory were: Jack Down on Dondero Way, Glen Trent on Broadway in Irvington and Stinhilver Photo Service on Glenview Drive in Centerville. Viales Studio on Fremont Boulevard and Lux Studio in the Centerville's Fremont Center had replaced Down and Stinhilver by 1958. By the 1960's, a number of stores were offering services to many amateur photographers.

It was difficult in the early years for photographers to finance a regular studio, but there was several who tried. The Williamson Studio in Niles featured "Portraits of Distinction" and advertised in the 1936 Washingtonian. The name must certainly have drawn some attention.

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