This name comes from my blog post on Monday the 28th March on Robert Adams. I’m expecting a lot of great American outdoorsiness so lets see if that is a fair statement….
William Henry Jackson was born in Keeseville, New York, on the 4th of April 1843 as the first of seven children and a great-great nephew of Samuel Wilson, the progenitor of America’s national symbol Uncle Sam. His mother, Harriet Maria Allen was a talented watercolorist and a graduate of the Troy Female Academy, later the Emma Willard School. Painting was his passion from a very young age and his first artist job was as a retoucher for a photography studio in Troy, New York, where he worked for two years.
At the age of 19, Jackson joined Company K of 12th Vermont Infantry of the Union Army. He spent much of his free time sketching his friends and various scenes of Army camp life. He fought in the American Civil War for nine months, including the battle of Gettysburg, but Jackson spent most of his tour on garrison duty and was guarding a supply train during the engagement. His regiment mustered out 14 July 1863.
Jackson got into the photography business in 1867. On ventures that often lasted for several days, Jackson acted as a “missionary to the Indians” around the Omaha region and it was there that Jackson made his now famous photographs of the American Indians: Osages, Otoes, Pawnees, Winnebagoes and Omahas.
In 1869 Jackson won a commission from the Union Pacific Railroad to document the scenery along the various railroad routes for promotional purposes. When his work was discovered by Ferdinand Hayden, the man organizing a geologic survey to explore the Yellowstone region, he was asked to join the expedition in 1870. Hayden’s surveys were annual multidisciplinary expeditions meant to chart the largely-unexplored west, observe flora (plants), fauna (animals), and geological conditions (geology), and identify likely navigational routes. As the official photographer for the survey, Jackson was in a position to capture the first photographs of legendary landmarks of the West which would play an important role in convincing Congress in 1872 to establish Yellowstone National Park, the first national park of the U.S.
Jackson worked in multiple camera and plate sizes, under conditions that were often incredibly difficult. His photography was based on the collodion process invented in 1848 and published in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer. Jackson traveled with as many as three camera-types—a stereographic camera (for stereoscope cards), a “whole-plate” or 8×10″ plate-size camera, and one even larger, as large as 18×22″. These cameras required fragile, heavy glass plates (photographic plates), which had to be coated, exposed, and developed onsite, before the wet-collodion emulsion dried. Without light metering equipment or sure emulsion speeds, exposure times required inspired guesswork, between five seconds and twenty minutes depending on light conditions.
Preparing, exposing, developing, fixing, washing then drying a single image could take the better part of an hour. The weight of the glass plates and the portable darkroom limited the number of possible exposures on any one trip, and these images were taken in primitive, roadless, and physically challenging conditions. When a mule lost its footing on one of the trips, Jackson lost a month’s work, having to return to untracked Rocky Mountain landscapes to remake the pictures, one of which was his celebrated view of the Mount of the Holy Cross. Other images included various western landmarks that had previously seemed only a fantastic myth: the Grand Tetons, Old Faithful and the rest of Yellowstone, Colorado’s Rockies and the Mount of the Holy Cross, and the uncooperative Ute Indians.
He continued traveling on the Hayden Surveys until the last one in 1878. He later established a studio in Denver, Colorado and produced a huge inventory of national and international views, including images for several railroad lines.
Thrust into financial exigencies by the Panic and Depression of 1893-95, Jackson accepted a commission by Marshall Field to travel the world photographing and gathering specimens for a vast new museum in Chicago and his pictures and reports were published by Harper’s Weekly magazine. He returned to Denver to shift into publishing; in 1897 he sold his entire stock of negatives and his own services to the Detroit Publishing Co. after the company had acquired the exclusive ownership and rights to the photochrom process in America. Jackson joined the company in 1898 as president bringing with him an estimated 10,000 negatives which provided the core of the company’s photographic archives, from which they produced pictures ranging from postcards to mammoth-plate panoramas. In 1903, Jackson became the plant manager, thus leaving him with less time to travel and take photographs. In 1905 or 1906, the company changed its name from the Detroit Photographic Co. to the Detroit Publishing Co.
In the 1910s, the publishing firm expanded its inventory to include photographic copies of works of art, which were popular educational tools as well as inexpensive home decor. During its height, the Detroit Publishing Company drew upon 40,000 negatives for its publishing effort, and had sales of seven million prints annually. Traveling salesmen, mail order catalogs, and a few retail stores aggressively sold the company’s products. With the declining sale of photographs and postcards during World War I, and the introduction of new and cheaper printing methods used by competing firms, the Detroit Publishing Company went into receivership in 1924, and in 1932 the company’s assets were liquidated.
Jackson moved to Washington, D.C. in 1924, and produced murals of the Old West for the new U.S. Department of the Interior building. He also acted as a technical adviser for the filming of Gone with the Wind.
In 1942, Jackson died at the age of 99 in New York City. He was honored by the Explorer’s Club for his 80,000 photographs of the American West. Recognized as one of the last surviving Civil War veterans, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The SS William H Jackson steamship was in active service in 1945 and Mount Jackson el. 8,231 feet (2,509 m) just north of the Madison River, in the Gallatin Range of Yellowstone National Park is named in his honor.
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