Science, Photography and the World We See Today.
The life of Arthur C. Pillsbury is the story of the application of photography to science in ways which resulted in broad public understanding of worlds previously beyond human vision. His goal was for each of us to experience the processes of life, the multifaceted and connected world of nature, of which we are a part, for ourselves. Most of Pillsbury's inventions took place in a world where gatekeepers, then being installed through an ongoing centralization of government by corporations, were taking control of our institutions. Those years were 1909 – 1930.
The tools Pillsbury identified, and his goals, differed from all other photographers and scientists, as did his background. Understanding him provides insights into a world which was then changing in ways still impacting us today.
Pillsbury lived and breathed photography, working diligently to solve the existing technological problems preventing our understanding the worlds beyond human vision. Scientists and medical professionals then lacked the most direct and important source of information, seeing the processes of life as they took place. Both his parents and his older brother were physicians who constantly studied how to understand these processes in biology, hampered by lack of adequate scientific tools in the last decades of the 19th Century and the first decade of the Twentieth Century.
Using a microscope, specimens had to be dead to be viewed. Can you know the grace of a runner in motion by viewing his dead body? No. You need to see the subject moving. Pillsbury's early years were filled with discussions about what could be learned from seeing life as it really was. Growing up in Auburn, California, Arthur had cross bred chickens and exotic birds, keeping careful records of the offspring, learning scientific method and routinely using a microscope.
His childhood and family culture gave him the mission on which he spent his life.
His parents, Drs Harriet Foster Pillsbury and Harlin Henry Pillsbury, brought two microscopes with them to California in 1883. Both were born in New England and were descended from families which had participated in the Transcendental, Radical Abolitionist, Educationist, and Women's Rights movements as classical liberals. Three generations of such individuals had been bloodied by the frustrations encountered in their inability to enact substantial change for individual rights and social justice using political tools to alleviate the conditions brought on by the South, as it ignored the mandate for all to be free, and the Civil War, fought to preserve the power of government.
ORIGIN AND FATE OF PROGRESSIVISM
Radical Abolitionists, dedicated fervently to Abolition, had demanded secession from the Union for New England with the cry, “No Union with Slave Holders,” since 1844. Women, working for the right to become educated and for their own equal and inherent rights, fought a long battle to set up their own colleges, spending generations confined to low paying jobs in education. Subsidies of corporations by Congress, courts which ignored the criminal activities of the growing industry of Big Oil, manipulations of the monetary system, all of these causes angered the offspring of generations who believed in individual rights, honest work, accountability and freedom.
By the late 1800s they were confronting the question of how these changes were to be made. Political action had failed after repeated attempts and continuous diligence.
In the years coming up to 1913 these questions became increasingly critical. Frustration built. Many of that generation had given up on the idea ordinary people could manage their own lives and make their own choices. It was a socialist christian, Francis Julius Bellamy, who in 1892 ran the first successful public relations campaign for adoption of a practice intended to de-emphasize and alter the study of the ideas of freedom in schools, adopting a role for the middle class to, “create a planned economy with political, social and economic equality for all. The government would run a peace time economy similar to our present military industrial complex.” That was the Pledge of Allegiance, installed through the first successful nation-wide media campaign in history which restated and reversed the relationship between the people and government.
Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the philosopher of the Women's Movement in the 1900s, became a socialist. Through the late 1900s into the 20th Century those sincerely dedicated to change kept working. Now they were using very different ideas, the concepts of individual rights and local governance directly by the people having given way to the move for top down control.
The failures of the 1800s could not be denied and resulted in the seduction of progressivism enunciated by Herbert Croly in his book, the Bible of Progressivism, titled, “The Promise of American Life,” published in 1909. Croly was also the founder of the New Republic.
In his book, Croly lays out a plan to regain a political and economic balance through strong federal regulations and social programs. Arguing only programs administered by the federal government make it possible for America to fulfill the promise of a positive and fair democracy for the greatest number of citizens, he began the use of the term, ‘‘New Nationalism,’’ taken up by Roosevelt as the label for his own political reforms.
Through carefully placed donations corporate interests built working relationships with Progressives and Fabian Socialists. In effect, Progressivism built the vehicle for fascism, launching the design in 1913. Using the Progressive's vehicle, Corporations took the driver's seat and stole America.
During the same period corporate interests, including Rockefeller, began covert funding the Revolution in Russia to further their own interests. Both Trotsky and Lenin were well aware of who was providing their funding. The most cursive study of history painfully reveals whose agenda was achieved.
CHAMPIONS OF INDIVIDUALISM
Arthur C. Pillsbury continued to uphold the ideas of individualism, held by his ancestors, while facing a world which was moving in exactly the wrong direction. Pillsbury had personally witnessed the failure of politics, its easy corruption and profiteering. He saw this play out in the aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, where an incompetent and corrupt city government caused enormous destruction of property and citizens were shot with impunity by troops. He saw it in the failure to give women their full rights, instead settling for having the right to vote. This was an issue for which his beloved mother, Dr. Harriet Foster Pillsbury, struggled all of her life. He saw it in the thumb fingered, arrogant and self-serving network of bureaucratic elitists who became the increasingly centralized Federal government from Woodrow Wilson on. He saw it in courts, which sold decisions, allowing the theft of his brother's estate in 1911. He saw it in the move by Stephen T. Mather to convert the National Parks to a resort for the 'elite' in 1915.
Academia was becoming, not a resource for the inquiring mind, but a priesthood dedicated to limiting inquiry. When Pillsbury began his studies of science in the late 1800s, knowledge was still open to anyone willing to learn from available information and apply themselves.. Alexander Graham Bell, Luther Burbank, George Washington Carver, Thomas Alva Edison, and Nikola Tesla were among the huge number of inventors who were largely self-educated. The move towards institutionalizing knowledge ran in absolute contradiction to what was proven to have worked. Those years had provided astonishing leaps in human knowledge.
Pillsbury's first invention was a specimen slicer for the microscope while still a student at Stanford in 1895. His senior project, designed while majoring in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford, was the first circuit panorama camera, built in 1897 over the objections of a senior adviser who told him the design could not work.
Over the course of his life Pillsbury produced a series of cameras each of which extended our vision into worlds formerly closed to us. The first lapse-time camera for plants came in 1912. Pillsbury built the camera to persuade the Park Service to stop the mowing of the meadows in Yosemite and begin the preservation of the wild flowers, a problem he had seen growing ever worse since his first visit there in 1895.
THE OPENING WEDGE OF AMERICAN MERCHANTILISM
In December of 1913 a cabal of bankers, promising election to Woodrow Wilson, managed to pass through Congress a central bank for the United States. In parallel, corporate interests worked for and succeeded in passing a Federal Income Tax and granted a monopoly for the practice of medicine to the American Medical Association, this motivated by the desire to profit from holdings in pharmaceutical companies. The move to centralize control through government brought into existence the alphabet agencies which reversed the relationship between government and Americans. The installation of Stephen Mather as head of National Parks was just one of these.
Grants from corporations to academia began to provide the bulk of the funds available to previously independent, academic institutions. Sun Oil, which funded and controls today the tens of thousands of yearly grants, amounting to millions of dollars to individuals, began installing the means to manufacture opinions useful to them. By determining who would, and who would not teach, write, and provide opinions for policy under consideration by Congress. Pew, and other corporations, began reformatting America's colleges and, by extrapolation, which ideas would shape our world.
Unlike the majority of his contemporaries Pillsbury neither bought in to the opportunities for personal gain or gave up on the ideas of freedom. Instead, he chose another course. Identifying a problem he could solve, he applied himself to providing the means for individuals to see and know the world with their own eyes. He called this the Knowledge Commons, an early version of today's Open Source.
Through the 20th Century awareness of the diametrically oppositional viewpoints for human organization, hierarchical vs. networked cooperation, would remake the world as the fascism of corporations grew expert in using the power of government to negate opportunities, choices, and a free market, manipulating academia, founding 'think tanks' to enforce their streams of income, and a media they had purchased to justify the whole.
Pillsbury, in 1913 raising his three adopted children, supporting his wife, and now caring for his invalid mother, refocused his life as he watched these events began to unfold.
In 1922 he lowered his costs by 75%, increasing his profits, by inventing the first mass production postcard machine, Patent No. 1,574,687. He was, through those years, the largest producer of post cards on the West Coast. He identified more products to sell and worked on enlarging his catalog of images. These included packets of small photos for tourists and gold backed glass photos known as d'orotones. He also began producing short films for Hollywood as he designed a microscopic motion picture camera, remembering the problems his parents and brother had faced along with other scientists.
Microscopes could not penetrate the living processes of biology or botany, the theories remained theories absent seeing the processes in life.
No one then living understood this need better than Pillsbury. His brother had been forced to leave Cooper's Medical College, where he was then teaching, in 1900 over a disagreement on germ theory, determined not objectively but by the force of authority which lacked access to seeing the process under discussion.
In his book, “Picturing Miracles of Plant and Animal Life,” published by Lippincott in 1937, Pillsbury wrote,” “One of the first reactions of seeing a reel of flowers growing and opening is to instill a love for them, a realization of their life struggles so similar to ours, and a wish to do something to stop the ruthless destruction of them which was fast causing them to become extinct. At that time no attempts were made to protect the flowers in any National Park, but soon enough agitation was started to show the necessity for it, and Mr. Lewis, the superintendent of Yosemite, asked me to name six flowers most necesary to protect. This was done and the next year six more were added to this number.”
Pillsbury, a modest man, does not mention it was his own work which elicited the outcry for preservation. Through his movies of nature, begun in Yosemite in 1909, and lectures to garden clubs, he had done much to plant the necessity for conservation in minds across California and the nation.
Giving people visual proof worked. As Pillsbury's commentary in his book continues he provides insight into his technique for enacting change in the world, “The Yosemite Park service had been mowing the meadows for the small amount of grass they could get as food for the service horses, killing off the meadow flowers in that way. It happened that there was a conference of Park Superintendents and the Director of Parks in Yosemite that fall. I showed my pictures, talked conservation and the necessity of all parks to protect them as a valuable asset. I had still pictures of the meadows taken in early days in '95 showing them covered with flowers waist high and the same meadows as they are at this time. As a result, the next day all flowers and all living things were protected in every National Park, and the mowing machine, as the people in Yosemite expressed it, “was put on the blink”
From the first popular and easily used camera produced by George Eastman in 1888 an explosion had rippled out across the human consciousness, witnessed by Pillsbury first hand. Cameras were in the hands of ordinary people and the world of movies was beginning to take shape. Here was a medium which crashed past the gatekeepers, Pillsbury realized. He made and sold film shorts which most Americans saw before the feature movie started in the 20s and 30s, viewed in school, or at one of his own lectures. In 1926 his personal lectures were heard by 32,000 people from 57 organizations.
Pillsbury's inventions each had in common the ability to extend the scope of human vision, making these insights available to the larger public. Each of these inventions was built, published and kept in public domain, the instructions included in “Miracles of Plant and Animal Life.” He refused to patent them, understanding the dangers of corporate acquisition and limitation.
In the article on the microscopic motion picture camera, published in Sunset Magazine in 1927 Pillsbury is quoted, “ I believe this discovery will be of inestimable value in bacteriology and probably will lead to much greater knowledge of communicable diseases, their cause, prevention and cure.” Said Pillsbury to the writer. Then he added: “This invention is to be dedicated to educational purposes. I could not think of even attempting to make money out of it. I will not commercialize it.”
The use of photography opened the human mind to the idea it was possible to 'see' into worlds never before penetrable to the human eye, allowing the human mind understand the processes dynamically taking place, and move on to treating and to innovation. This has taken place in every arena for science over the last 75 years. The innovation which allowed this to happen, first in botany and then in biology was the microscopic motion picture camera, invented, built and funded by Arthur C. Pillsbury.
It is impossible to imagine science today without these applications of photography and its related technologies. It was a revolution, born through the remembered frustrations of the 1800s and the advances of corporate power he witnessed. One person can change the world, if he, or she, is determined.