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[Detail] U.S.S. Alert. Photographer - W H Jackson, 1901 or 1902

Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company 1880-1920, documents a number of historic events such as the Spanish-American War and the 1906 California earthquake. Other pieces in this collection chronicle the development of U.S. enterprises such as the railroad, telegraph, and telephone industries. Many works also represent the efforts of the renowned photographer William Henry Jackson.

1) William Henry Jackson

William Henry Jackson set out for the uncharted territory of the western United States in the second half of the nineteenth century. His various expeditions led to a remarkable career that demonstrated both his personal skill and the inherent value of documentary photography.

Jackson was a Civil War veteran working in a Vermont photo gallery when he headed west in 1866. He soon found himself sketching landmarks along the Oregon Trail, photographing the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, and joining geologist Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden for an expedition into the Yellowstone Lake area.

Expeditions were important in documenting uncharted areas within the United States. The federal government sponsored these diverse groups of artists, scientists, and soldiers to explore an area and to report on its resources. Hayden's expedition included illustrators, a mineralogist, and a topographer. The natural beauty depicted by the artists, including Jackson's many photographs, helped to convince Congress to establish the area as a national park in 1872.

Jackson later worked on several other geologic surveys and headed expeditions of his own. His early achievements included being the first U.S. photographer to document prehistoric Native-American dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado and working as a principal photographer of the nation's railroad system.

In 1894, Jackson began a two-year world tour for the World's Transportation Commission. (Many of the photographs from this tour are available in the American Memory collection, Around the World in the 1890s.) Jackson joined the Detroit Publishing Company four years later and added his extensive body of work to the company's collection of negatives.

The collection's timeline chronicles key events in Jackson's career as well as key events in the history of photography. Meanwhile, a search on William Henry Jackson photographer produces thousands of examples of his work.

  • How do you think that Jackson's career paralleled national growth throughout the nineteenth century?
  • How do you think that Jackson's career relates to the history and development of photography?
  • Why do you think that Jackson might have joined and led so many expeditions?
  • How might these expeditions have contributed to the development of photography?
  • Are there any differences among Jackson's photographs that correlate with the differences among his projects?
  • Are there any consistent subjects throughout Jackson's extensive body of work?
  • Do you think that Jackson had a distinctive photographic style? If so, how would you describe it?