Down on the college campus at Palo Alto in the middle nineties an inter-class rush was held. On the side lines stood a youth, a member of the class of ’97, with a small vest pocket Kodak. It has cost him $5 and it took a picture 1 ½ by 3 inches in dimensions. The young amateur had a pretty busy time of it taking snapshots and changing film rolls. When the rush was over and bruises were being counted the student began developing his films. He found that he had secured a set of sixty-four snapshots of all sorts, every one of them good. There was a big demand for those pictures among the other students and the enterprising Kodak sharp sold over $100 worth of the snapshots all printed by his own hand.
Thus was laid the foundation of the career of a noted scenic photographer. “I never will forget those pesky little solio prints,” says Arthur C. Pillsbury, the artist photographer of Yosemite Valley. “Every one had to be squeegeed and I was heartily sick of them before I was through, but they brought in the money.” From the miniature Kodak young Pillsbury drifted to a larger camera. Soon, he had a little shop of his own and was selling kodaks and cameras in connection with bicycles and athletic goods. Majoring in mechanical engineering at college and being of an inventive turn; Pillsbury began studying to determine some means of taking panoramic views. In 1897 he invented the first panoramic camera with a revolving lens. It took pictures ten inches wide by thirty-six inches long and being entirely new, it made a big hit in the photographic world.
Photographs Alaskan Scenery
As a result of his success with the panoramic camera, the U. S. census bureau appointed him official government photographer in 1898 and sent him into Alaska to secure a series of views showing the scenery of the far North for government records. Mr. Pillsbury has some interesting experiences in Alaska which were not without real thrills. Securing a birch lark canoe, he started out alone with his cameras from Bennett, at the head of the Yukon, and traveled down stream 2400 miles, camping wherever night overtook him. At times his canoe almost upset as his shot through the rapids but he managed to come through in safety and to bring out a wonderful set of negatives. His reputation was established forthwith.
The young college man was in Nome when the town first opened up. His pictures of the famous missing camp, which grew by leaps and bounds when the gold rush was on, were published all over the world.
His San Francisco
Pillsbury spent two years in Alaska and on coming out of the North went into general photography, first in Seattle and later in San Francisco. For three years prior to the San Francisco fire of 1906, he was the head staff photographer for the San Francisco Examiner. When the great city by the Golden Gate was laid low, he secured the only set of professional pictures taken showing the burning of the city.
“I knew all the cops and the firemen and I had my press badge so they let me by.” Says Pillsbury. While working for the Examiner Pillsbury also conducted a photographic shop on Second street, one block from Market. The shop went up in flames and all of Pillsbury’s effects including his priceless Alaska negatives went with it. “But it was the best thing that could have happened to any photographer,” says the artist laughingly. When I lost my stock of negatives I went out and made new ones.” Pillsbury suffered losses in the San Francisco conflagration, but they were but temporary. He secured a set of 150 negatives shoeing the three-day sweep of the flames cross the city that stands serenely by the Golden Gate indifferent to fate, as the Bret Harte puts it, and these enabled him to recoup his lost fortunes. One negative alone, a panoramic view 18x16 inches, taken from the roof of the St. Francis hotel showing the great smokeline moving across the city of skyscrapers, earned him $600 per day for six consecutive weeks. This picture was sold and published throughout the world. The photographer blistered his feet tramping the hot pavements of the burning city, but his enterprise amply repaid him. He still has hi fire negatives, but he declares that commercially they are practically valueless for their earning power ceased long ago.
Opens Yosemite Studio
Shortly after the conflagration Pillsbury bought out a studio in Yosemite Valley and decided to go in for scenic views exclusively. He has been a national park photographer ever since. His photographic masterpieces of the valley of wonders are known throughout the world.
Mr. Pillsbury has never been content to trod the beaten paths of photography. Just as he pioneers in inventing the panoramic camera with the revolving circuit lens he has also paved the way to modern day perfection in other branches of the photographic art. It was Mr. Pillsbury who three years ago introduced the beautiful D’orotones and Silvertone prints which have proved so effective in bringing out the beauties of Yosemite scenes. The Silvertones, usually snow scenes, carry an appearance of coldness that is most realistic. Anyone who possess one of Pillsbury’s D’orotones or Silvertones has cause to feel proud.
His moving Pictures
Of Yosemite Flowers
But the greatest achievement of Pillsbury’s career was attained when after five years of study and experiment he perfected a method of taking moving pictures showing the flowers of Yosemite valley and the higher regions of the national park as they bud and burst into bloom. Those how attended Mr. Pillsbury’s lecture at the new Stockton High school auditorium Wednesday evening were given an inkling of his artistic photographic triumph. Mr. Pillsbury generously drove all the way down to Stockton from Yosemite Valley to give the people mediumship of the Stockton Nature Study club and E. C. Lingston. Unfortunately the new high school auditorium was not equipped with a moving picture machine, and the small portable apparatus provided locally for the occasion not only failed to project the pictures on the screen with sufficient brilliancy to make them effective but at times ‘acted up’ and refused to project at all. There was a splendid audience present. Mr. Pillsbury accepted the disappointment with remarkable grace. With the stereopticon he was able to obtain results that were really fine and the audience was kept entertained.
Mrs. Pillsbury’s Sympathetic Aid
Mr. Pillsbury, of course, loves Yosemite and the outdoors. He recently disposed of his studios in Pasadena and San Francisco and henceforth will devote himself exclusively to his studio in Yosemite. He has made a special study of plant life of the park and in this pursuit he has had the sympathetic aid and interest of Mrs. Pillsbury, formerly Miss Sadie Banfield, a botanist of Tacoma, Wash. Much of the credit for his success in his photographic studies of the flowers of Yosemite he attributes to the encouragement given him my Mrs. Pillsbury.
Last winter Mr. Pillsbury spent three months in the East on a lecture tour, showing his moving pictures of Yosemite’s wild flowers. At the conclusion of the tour he sold the exhibitor’s American and foreign rights to his flower pictures and as a result they will shortly appear on the circuits. Thus theatre-goers throughout the world will become familiar with Yosemite’s floral displays and will be treated to the unusual spectacle of flowers bursting into radiant bloom all within the space of a few seconds, while the pictures are on the screen, although in many cases the camera was trained on the plants for days and weeks in order to secure the results attained. Mr. Pillsbury’s movie camera is operated by a motor with clock attachment which makes exposures at intervals times sufficiently to record every movement of the bud as it swells and opens into a beautiful flower. Visitors to Yosemite have an opportunity to see Mr. Pillsbury’s moving pictures at his studio.
Will Build New Studio
The artist photographer has just obtained a new fifteen-year lease from the National Park Service and has advertised for bids for a new studio to be erected in the new Yosemite Village which is to be established on the north side of the Valley. The National Park Service, by the way, has but recently accepted the bid of Gutleben, the Los Angeles contractor, for the construction of the new post office and administration building which are to form the first units of the new village. The Pillsbury studio will be a most attractive structure of granite and logs, conforming to the general scheme of architecture for the village. The studio will be 40x60 feet in dimensions. There will also be a lecture room with a seating capacity of 275 in the rear so that visitors may have opportunity to view Mr. Pillsbury’s moving pictures.
Will photograph Hawaii Park
This autumn Mr. and Mrs. Pillsbury will ship their car to Honolulu and Mr. Pillsbury will spend the winter taking pictures of the wonderful Hawaiian scenery. He will visit the Hawaiian National Park and will from the air shoot Kilauea, the active volcano which has appeared so much in the news of late. Mr. Pillsbury plans to circle the volcano in a government airplane as he trains his movie camera on the crater and grinds the crank.
Mr. Pillsbury is a native of Medford, Mass, but he came to California in 1883 and is just as enthusiastic over California’s scenery as any dyed-in-the wool native son.