By Gregory L. Williams
The collections of photographs at SDHC are made up of the work of commercial photographers, family photographers, government photographs, collections of similar formats of photography (lantern slides, stereocards), images relating to artists’ works, images of entertainment, aerial photographs and many others.
The collection holds an extensive variety of photographic negatives, prints and other formats. While this is mostly a negative collection that allows quick reproduction one of the strengths of the collection comes from the diversity of its images. Early formats represented include daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, albumen prints, cyanotypes, glass plate negatives, carte-de-vistes, cabinet cards, stereocards, circuit or panoramic prints and negatives, slides, autochrome slides, and a variety of miniature images. Negative processes include glass plates, nitrate negatives, diacetate negatives, safety film, polyester negatives, color film, and color transparencies. Also included are motion pictures and videos.
In this guide the collections are divided into three groups: Core Collections, Individual Collections, and Photograph Albums. The first group consists of Core Collections with large groupings of negatives and prints. The smaller Individual Collections consist of donations that stand alone as an intellectual entity. Many of the Individual Collections are contained within the Core Collections. The Core Collections include the Print Reference Books, The Title Insurance Collection, the SDHC Negative Collection, the Original Print Collection and the San Diego Union-Tribune Collection. Many items in the Individual Collections overlap with the Core Collections because of preservation concerns and printing. The San Diego Union- Tribune photographs, the Society’s largest photograph collection, consists of daily news photographs. The Photograph Album Collection consists usually of single albums collected by a family member or a photographer.
Because the photographs at SDHC have been organized for quick reference (Reference Books) and preserved (nitrate negatives and glass plates have been duplicated/original prints have had copy negatives made) in large collections, at times the work of individual photographers gets overlooked. Duplicate negatives have also been made from material loaned to the Society. Some images in the photograph albums have been copied and those copies are placed in the SDHC Negative Collection.
The first commercial photographers in San Diego, Rudolph Schiller and Charles P. Fesseden, set up photograph galleries in town about 1869. While Schiller’s gallery burned down and he went out of business in 1872, Fessenden worked as a photographer until 1876 when he sold his equipment and negatives to J.A. Sherriff. Mr. Sherriff, ultimately named his business the San Diego View Co. and sold his collection of photographs to Herbert Fitch in the late 1890s. Herbert Fitch proceeded to take 10,000 or so images over the next fifty years. In 1947, Fitch’s negatives and in turn the remaining images of Fessenden and Sheriff, were sold to the Union Title Company (later Title Insurance Co.). Another early photography outfit in San Diego was started by Joseph C. Parker. Parker and his family were in business under five names between 1872 and 1892. The Parkers specialized in stereoviews, landscape scenes, and portraits. In 1979 the Title Insurance Company collection came to the San Diego History Center.
The images of many photographers working in San Diego during the first half of the twentieth century are represented in the Union Title Collection, the SDHC Negative Collection, and in the collections of individual photographers. Besides Herbert Fitch, the collections contain the work of Ralph P. Stineman, Lee Passmore, Walter E. Averette, F.E. Patterson, Roland Schneider and his wife Florence Kemmler Schneider, Harry Bishop, and Guy Sensor. It is the work of these early photographers that presented the real estate, landscape, beaches, mountains, harbor, and businesses of San Diego to the city, state and nation. While selling their work to newspapers, realtors, the public, and businesses, these early photographers documented San Diego’s evolution from a dry and/or muddy frontier town of the Old West into a dynamic area filled with industry, military, recreation, agriculture, and beauty.
Ralph P. Stineman, who took over 3000 images of San Diego between 1911-1915, showed San Diego as it prepared to face the world prior to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. F. E. Patterson traveled throughout the county documenting the rugged landscape and rural life as well as urban development prior to 1925. The inclusion of the landscape, beaches, and horticulture in the photographs of Schneider and Kemmler shows a less serious and more scenic San Diego than other collections. Naturalist and photographer Lee Passmore’s work (1900-1930s) documents San Diego from the sea to the desert. Herbert Fitch, whose worked makes up a large segment of the Title Insurance Collection, photographed San Diego for fifty years (1890s-1940s). Harry Bishop worked for the local newspaper and captured a wide variety of news and sports related images. At times it seems that Guy Sensor and Walter Averette photographed everything in town during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Averette focused on wide ranging views of the harbor, downtown and Balboa Park while Sensor seemingly photographed every car dealership, working people, restaurants and new home in San Diego.
In addition to the work of these early twentieth century commercial photographers, the work of an amateur photographer, Edward H. Davis, represents an important view of Southwestern Native Americans. Davis took thousands of images of Indians throughout San Diego County, Southern California, Arizona, and Baja California. The Society also has Davis’ journals of his travels and visits with Native Americans.
The Society has a large segment of aerial photographs. Photographed from high and low altitude for the government, developers and others, the aerials were taken between the 1930s and 1950s. Aerial photographers include Harry (Jimmy) Erickson, Howard Rozelle, Gene Kazikowski, and Larry Booth. The San Diego City Planning Commission Collection also consists of aerials.
The photographers of post World War II San Diego are represented in the collections of Larry Booth who covered San Diego on the ground and in the air for Title Insurance’s promotional magazine Title Trust Topics; Charles Schneider photographed everything from Hollywood actors to Del Mar interior design; Norman Baynard served the community for thirty years (1940s-1970s) by documenting African-American life, activities, style, and family life; and Steve McCarroll captured the 1970s with activities such as hang gliding and other outdoor activities. A prominent photographer in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s, Antony Di Gesu created portraits of prominent San Diegans in the 1970s-1980s. His entire archive of portraits is now in the SDHC collection.
The San Diego Union-Tribune collection, the Society’s largest, goes back as far as 1912, but mostly it documents the daily life of San Diegans between the 1950s and 1981. This important collection consists of both subject photographs and images of people in the news. It is accessible through a card catalog.
Other professional photographers whose collections are mentioned in this guide are Joseph Haase, Mike Hazelip, Vernon Heger, Paul Madigan, J. S. Slocum, and Jack Crawford.
Many collections at SDHC were not generated by professional photographers. These collections are divided by photographic type or format either by collectors or SDHC. These include photograph albums, stereocards, lantern slides, motion pictures, panoramic/circuit prints, autochrome slides, cased photographs (daguerreotype, ambrotypes), slides, and an extensive postcard collection. Another important source for postcards and other images is the Andreas Brown Collection. Other ‘collected’ collections include early SDHC photographs that are divided by subjects and places.
The Collection also contains many topical or personal photograph groupings. Such collections contain subjects such as architecture, art, families, government, and transportation, and organizations. Photograph collections dealing with artists include sculptor Donal Hord’s, Ella Marie and Jackson Wooley and Marion Plummer Lester. Performing arts collections include the Barbara Jean Burlesque Theater Collection, the James Dillon Theater Display photographs, the Film and Stage Performance collection, and the Walter Fulkerson Theater Collection. Photographs dealing with San Diego architecture are represented throughout the collection. Smaller collections with architectural images include Irving Gill, Lloyd Ruocco, Robert Mosher, Richard Requa’s motion pictures, F.B. Norris, Don Perkins, and several Balboa Park collections. Collections of family photographs include but are not limited to the following families: Argall, Bowles/Tulloch, Christman, Doe, Fletcher, Janz, Kelsey, McLure, Sefton, McKenzie-Smith, Sweet, Stewart, Strahlman, Waterman, and Walker. Photographs generated from San Diego governmental agencies or individuals dealing with land and water development include: the City Planning Commission aerial photographs, San Diego Harbor Collection, San Diego Port Authority, San Diego Convention and Tourist Bureau, County Supervisor DeGraff Austin, the San Diego Police Department, and Glenn Rick’s images of Mission Bay. There are also collections dealing with the military (Camp Callan, etc), defense plants (Convair), railroads (Philip Middlebrook), and maritime history (Robert Eberhardt).
Other important collections dealing with a diverse number of subjects include the Asian-Chinese Collection, Frye & Smith Printers, the photographs of downtown in 1980, and the San Diego Public Library’s collection.