Historical Photographers

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Hi, I have been suprised that there have been no answers to my question about Camilis S. Fly. Does no one here have any interest in past photographers? I am an outdoor photographer, and concentrate on the Desert and "old west". I have a great sense of following the historical artists and photographers, particularly those of the early western period. This was one of the reasons I have gone into Large Format. I can not help being amazed and thrilled at the difficulty these brave, adventureus photographers went through. I am often suprised by this forum, when I read how many large format photographers use quickloads and dislike the trouble of loading film. We need to remember that in the 1800's, photographers had to flow wet emultion onto 8x10 or even 24x18 inch plates, shoot and develop the plates while they were still wet, and all this while in the field!

I hope some of you can see your place in the history of photography, and the tradition that we are part of. Again I would like to ask if any one has heard of Camilus S. Fly, or other historical photographers that are interesting and have contributed to the historical past. Thanks,


-- Bill Lindley (adley@ix.netcom.com), February 18, 2000


I thought about that about a year ago when I was going through the latest National Geographic. An artical about a NG photographer (sorry, dont have the name offhand) who was on assignment in asia around the turn of the century. Apparently NG was going through thier archives and came upon a bunch of 5x7 glass plates from his work. The article told about the conditions he had to go through to take the photos, from dealing with broken glass plates, weather, etc. We do have it quite easy, dont we? I still load my filmholders, at least.

-- Ron Shaw (shaw9@llnl.gov), February 18, 2000.

I confess that I haven't heard of Camilus S. Fly. But I have recently fallen in love with the work of Carleton Watkins. I received a small book about him for Christmas (the In Focus series from the Getty Museum), and later had the opportunity to see the major show about him at the NY Metropolotan Museum of Art and to buy the catalogue. Given all of the limitations of the time (mammoth glass plates, portable dark room, the different sensitivities of emulsions), his work is amazing.

I think he was one of the most skilled craftsmen among nineteenth century photographers. Truly amazing tonal ranges. And he was also one of the most gifted artists - very powerful compositions (some of which are strikingly modern).

-- Penny Chase (pc@mitre.org), February 18, 2000.

Have you checked with the local museums? How about with the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona?

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), February 18, 2000.

What about those Old West Renenacting Groups that go out and shoot blackpowder on the weekends?

-- Sean yates (yatescats@yahoo.com), February 18, 2000.

I have never heard of this photographer. Do you have any more references about him? Where he worked, when? I have seen some original Curtis prints out in Seattle. I understand most of them were done on printing-out paper and gold toned. Beautiful things.

One of these days I would like to take the Polaroid 20x24 and retrace W H Jackson's travels.

-- Tony Brent (ajbrent@mich.com), February 18, 2000.


i have not run across your historical "Fly" photographer, however, i may pass on a name and email of a person who just may answer your question. His name is Hal Gould, Director of the Camera Obscura Gallery in Denver. Hal is an older gentleman who is an authority on 19th & 20th century photography--is well versed in western photo history and has one of the best fine art galleries in the usa--the oldest. "hgould@iws.net"-- the denver public library as well as the Colo Historical Society have excellent archives--Eric Paddock is the Curator of photo at the CHS. A particular photographer at the turn of the century who lived and worked in the silver/gold mining town of Georgetown, "The Silver Queen of the West"--a place that WH Jackson photographed, is Ben Draper who is of interest to me--if you run across his images let me know. His images are of Georgetown, the Famed Loop, and Silver Plume. Draper's images are not widely known nor did he do much work outside of this local.

Raymond A. Bleesz bleesz@vail.net

-- Raymond A.Bleesz (bleesz@vail.net), February 19, 2000.

Bill, You might try the photographic history listserve. I learned about it through the links section of the Royal Photographic Society's website, www.rps.org. FWIW, I am very interested in 19th century photographers. Currently, I'm reading a book about the surveys by Hayden, King, Powell & Wheeler from the late 1860s to the late 1870s. William Henry Jackson and Timothy H. O'Sullivan accompanied three of the four surveyors with hundreds of pounds of glass plates. Jim Worthington

-- Jim Worthington (ajworthington@mindspring.com), February 19, 2000.


You've probably spent some time doing web searches...but I found a reference to this book which does identify C.S.Fly and many other early photographers. There was another thread about C.S.Fly and his nephew Boone which identifies them with Napa, California. The book seems to be more directly in line with the general interest in old time photographers, their challenges and results. Following links to Wyatt Earp items also leads to references to Fly and his wife Mary.

Good Hunting


Photographers in Arizona, 1850-1920: A History and Directory, by Jeremy Rowe (Carl Mautz Publishing)

-- Fred Leif (Frederickl@aol.com), February 19, 2000.

indeed, bill - i am greatly interested in the history of photography, and have collected a very nice library on the subject. i own about 20 fine albumen prints, mostly the work of the major architectural and topographic photographers of the 19th century, including baldus, le gray, watkins, and marville, along with many others from europe (ponti, alinari, fenton, macpherson) and the orient (frith, beato, sebah, du camp, etc). the name fly does not ring any bells from my readings, and i just browsed through mayb 10 or 12 of my principal references and did not turn up his name. so his significance may be more on a local level, and your best bet might be to contact the state historical society and talk to the photographs librarian.

-- jnorman (jnorman@teleport.com), February 19, 2000.


This thread prompted me to re-watch "Tombstone"

In Kurt Russell's western revisionist view of things, Fly's Photo Studio sure get shot up a bit at the OK Corral. There is also a scene of Earp's love interest having a boudoir photograph taken by Fly!

So I guess the filmakers certainly heard of him.

Tim A

PS, if you are going to take up a rephotographic project of old western photographs, you might need to get one of those Sam Elliott type moustaches though...

-- Tim Atherton (tim@KairosPhoto.com), February 19, 2000.

Bill, If you are a photographer of the desert then you need to take a trip to Tombstone, AZ. Camilis S. Fly had a studio in Tombstone near the OK Coral. It has been restored with many of his famous photographs in the surrounding area on exhibit. Fly accompanied the US Calvary to photograph the capture of Geronimo, his son Chappo Geronimo and the warriors he led in battle against the settlers of the West. Gernimo & his warriors were then imprisoned at Ft. Pickens on Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola Fl. Many of the indians died there due to the harsh climate and were moved to Mt. Vernon, AL where it was a little milder. Geronimo and the surviving indians were later returned to reservations in the West. Chappo Geronimo died at Mr. Vernon and is now buried in a National Military Cemetary in Mobile, AL. Fly's historical photographs of the surrender of Geronimo are probably his most famous.

-- Pat Kearns (Pat.Kearns@coopertsmith.com), February 28, 2000.

Not knowing of one photographer with local or regional fame is not a crime. Have you heard of Alma, Matthew and Glenn Compton? Where I live they are the subjects of local fame, being three generations of photographers covering 100 years in the same studio. They documented life in Northern Utah well, using large format gear. Yet few outside our little area have heard of them. Yes, photography was difficult in the past. If one uses large format or mammoth camera gear it is still so in spite of our not coating our own plates these days. The difficulty alone doesn't make the older work valuable, the images recorded do. Tradition and history will always be pushed aside as we 'improve' on what has gone before us, whether a hundred, a thousand or even fifty years ago. Name the first ten astronauts to orbit the earth-probably can't do that one either without looking it up. Photography is no different. A lot contributed to our modern techniques and will be forgotten by other than the few who enjoy looking and researching our past. A tragedy? No, but a sad commentary on how we value history. Sadder yet is our history in the making that will be lost by the use and erasing of so much digital imagery as we save only what is actually printed in papers, magazines and final images. In the future we will become known and remembered only for the few images that are saved. No more contact sheets, negatives and records left in old boxes in the attics and basements of relatives. A few CD's, zip disks and fading digital prints the soon disappear. No more newspaper archives of negatives and contacts to study as the one or two images used from the digital cameras are the only only ones saved. We still have the images of the crossing of the West in U.S. History due to the work of photographers able to leave a legacy in permanent form. Work valued today even more than when it was first made. In the future we will have little like this to go back to, a spur to all who shoot large format in silver and 'alt process' to do your best to make sure it lasts, whether you remember Fly, Jackson or anyone from our own past. What does last will eventually be seen just as their work is now-an anachronism by some and priceless treasures by others.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), March 02, 2000.

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