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« Web Folk Art | Main | A Modest Proposal Regarding Taxes »

March 03, 2003

Pic of the Day


About 20 years ago I stumbled across the work of photographer Darius Kinsey in a beautifully printed paperback edition of his photos. He was a commercial photographer in Washington State (headquartered out of Sedro-Woolley, about 50 miles north of Seattle) in the early years of the 20th century. In addition to all types of conventional subject matter, he made apparently endless trips to the logging camps.

Hauling his collection of very large glass plate cameras up into the woods, he took remarkable group portrait shots of the loggers and other workers, taking orders which were then mailed out by his long-suffering wife, who did the darkroom work back at home. According to a website (which you can visit here) Kinsey routinely carried in excess of one hundred pounds of photographic equipment, often traveling with 2 cameras, and occasionally three, which meant a lot of moving around via horse and buggy or pack mules in the woods. By 1902 he was working with a camera utilizing enormous 20” by 24” glass plates. Despite the fact that his lenses were primitive, the size of the resulting negatives allowed him to produce images that combined panoramic views with extraordinary detail. Regrettably, the reproductions of his work I’ve seen since my encounter with that paperback edition (a library book) have not done justice to the beauty and delicacy of the photos.

To me, his work has always been special in that it breaks through the tendency of “fine art” photography to focus on creating beautiful photo-objects as an end in itself and manages to show an interest in the real people he was photographing in a real (work) situation. Because of his slow exposures he requires everyone to stop what they’re doing and pose, which his loggers, cooks and railroad crew members do with a mixture of stoicism, dignity and—occasionally—goofiness. (There’s no trickiness about his methodology here; it’s formal portrait photography of people who know they’re posing for a camera.) The ultra-fine detail in many of his prints allows us to take in the astonishingly varied and interesting faces on view in the midst of their work environment. In short, he somehow transcended many of the technical restrictions of photography and made it serve of an extraordinarily humanistic vision of mankind. His subjects aren’t being anatomized by their profession, or condescended to, or used as subjects a visual essay on the heroic working class—they have the dignity of being themselves. Which seems to be all they need.

D. Kinsey, Loggers Posing with Big Wheels, date unknown

Anyway, here is one of his pictures (and it is a thumbnail--you won't get the real impact without clicking on it); sorry that the enormous finesse and beauty of his original prints doesn’t come through, but maybe you can imagine it.



posted by Friedrich at March 3, 2003


Thanks for introducing me to Kinsey, whose pics I hadn't been aware of. I especially like the way, as you point out, the personalities of the men in the photo shine out throught the "period" qualities of the photo. They aren't lost in some distant time, they're people living in certain circumstances.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 4, 2003 7:46 PM

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