Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights — Early Los Angeles Portrait Photographers Capture Life



Garden City Cart
Garden City Foto Co. demonstrated its setup for high-angle shots in this ad from a Los Angeles city directory. 

ong before topnotch stills photographers like Fred Hartsook and Albert Witzel began shooting high-end portraits, many early photographers captured Los Angeles residents’ likenesses for posterity. Most worked for only a few years as photographers before moving on to other professions. Then as now, rapidly changing technologies forced many out of business. By the 1890s, portrait photographers dominated the Los Angeles’ photography field.

Photography as a medium began with Joseph Nicephore Niepce’s use of heliography to capture the first image of a view from an upstairs window of his estate in 1826 or 1827, now part of the Harry Ransom Center’s photography collection. In 1829, Niepce partnered with Louis Daguerre to experiment with which materials were most sensitive to light and would most expose detailed, finished images on plates. Daguerre’s use of fuming his plates after exposure with heated mercury created a permanent image, revealed to the public in 1837. William Henry Fox Talbot in England developed his own printing techniques around the same time, which he displayed to Royal Institution in January 1839. Thus, photography as we know it, was born.

Mary Mallory’s “Hollywoodland: Tales Lost and Found” is available for the Kindle.


Garden City Foto Co

A portrait by Garden City Foto Co., courtesy of Mary Mallory.


andscapes and still lifes dominated the early years of photography, but portraiture very quickly jumped to the forefront as the leading type of photograph captured and desired. The public bought daguerreotypes of themselves or family members in order to identify themselves to distant family members, to keep a record for posterity, or just for the sake of possessing a graceful image of their likeness. Vernacular forms of portraiture practiced by itinerant cameramen, which captured a more relaxed, naturalistic image of sitters, soon seemed much more honest than the more formal practices of the professional classes.

Photography really came of age after the American Civil War and Mathew Brady’s frank portrayals of death on the battlefield. Dry plate processes and quicker papers were introduced that made emulsions more sensitive and development quicker, and more important, drastically cut prices. People swarmed to buy cameras or have their portraits taken by photography studios.

Cabinet cards were manufactured more cheaply than daguerreotypes and became the photographs of choice for the growing middle class. These 6½- by 41/4-inch heavy stock cards featured thin photographs mounted on them as matte collodion, gelatin, or gelatin bromide prints and sold to consumers. The general public wanted images of their children, babies, wedding, deaths, anniversaries — important milestones in their lives.

J. B. Blanchard and Co


A Blanchard photo, courtesy of Mary Mallory.


Sleepy Los Angeles saw photographers arrive in the 1850s and 1860s, who mostly captured views of prominent buildings and landscapes. By the 1870s and 1880s, they began focusing their cameras on individuals. Most early photographers of this period stated that they made stereoscopes of Los Angeles or called themselves “artistic” in advertisements. F. H. Rogers noted that he was a landscape photographer in a 1885 advertisement, taking stereoscopes of Los Angeles which were sold by booksellers. In the 1880s and 1890s, portrait photographers began setting up studios in downtown Los Angeles to produce lifelike images of the growing middle class.

Among the early photography practitioners in downtown Los Angeles were J. B. Blanchard and J. T. Pollock. Both men worked approximately five to 10 years in the field before moving on to other ventures.

J. B. Blanchard and Co. Back
The back of a Blanchard portrait, courtesy of Mary Mallory.


T. Pollock appears to have been born in October 1870, and operated his own studio for a few years before establishing Garden City Foto or Photo Co. at 606 E. Fifth St. sometime in the late 1880s, taking views of local attractions as well as portraits. Classified ads in “Out West” magazine, city directories, and the Los Angeles Times show him operating in the 1890s. This cabinet card appears to be a matte collodion print, as it is more sepia toned and yellow, approximately from the late 1880s, with a very relaxed, natural pose of the sitter, identified on the print as Oscar Alfred Holt, who leans on a fence.

The verso of the print is a full-page advertisement for their services, claiming, “We are here to stay,” as the “largest and best equipped Photo Co. in America.” Beginning as an itinerant company, it advertised its mobility with a photograph showing the photographer behind his branded camera riding a platform on which to take location shots. Their hyperbolic copy stated, “Is probably the best known Photograph Company on the Pacific Coast, having made Photos in all towns between Los Angeles and San Francisco, along the coast, and through the San Joaquin Valley.

All work strictly First class. No poor work allowed to leave the studio.

We make Photos anywhere and everywhere. We will Photograph your house, interior or exterior; your horse and buggy; your family; your dogs and cats or anything you desire. Views of house and grounds taken from a 25-foot elevation, showing them to the best possible advantage.

N.B. Having our own conveyance we are prepared to make Photos in the country as low as in town.”

Pollock appeared in Ventura County Court in early December, 1894, when Ed M. Morrill of a rival gallery accused him of “making indecent and lewd photographs.” Juan Salmeron testified that Morrill paid him to purchase the 25-cent photo to be used as evidence. Ray Huston testified that he witnessed an employee printing similar pictures, and Juan Pico claimed he had accompanied Salmeron and saw the photograph purchased, as well as another like it. When the defense confronted Huston, however, he began contradicting himself on the stand, admitting he had never seen anything. The case was thrown out of court. By the early1900s, Garden City Foto Co. disappears from directories.

Garden City Foto Co Back
The back of a Garden City Foto Co. photograph, courtesy of Mary Mallory.


arden City Foto Co. stills appear in early Los Angeles history books as well as in the Huntington and Los Angeles Public Library archives.

J. B. (James) Blanchard was an itinerant photographer working in Southern California from approximately 1890-1902, forming J. B. Blanchard & Co. at 715 N. Main St. in Los Angeles. He focused more on taking landscapes of prominent locations, and on Sept. 28, 1890, he supplied images of San Fernando Mission, San Gabriel Mission, Santa Barbara Mission, San Juan Capistrano Mission, Mt. Baldy, Sonoratown, Hill St., the Nadeau, El Capitan, Mariposa, Cathedral Rock, Lucky Baldwin’s Ranch, Long Beach, Santa Monica, and the like, when the Chamber of Commerce requested photographs donate striking images of the local people and places for exhibition, per the Los Angeles Times.

In 1891, he advertised that he was selling images of Camp Johnson at Santa Monica when Gov. Markham visited. By 1897, he was in partnership with Konold at 452 S. Spring St. and 513 N. Main.

Blanchard promoted himself in the press as preeminent in taking images of family groups, children and women, and claimed on the back of his prints to duplicate pictures from this original negative, or enlarged in crayon, Indian Ink, or pastel

A few images pop up in archives as well. From the darker look to his prints, he appears to have manufactured gelatin bromide prints, employing elegant painted backdrops giving the impression that his sitters are posing in nature. Blanchard’s work shows elegant composition and rich detailing, reflecting a more refined taste.

While long forgotten today, the work of these and other portrait photographers influenced early motion picture stills photographers in crafting unique images to sell films and stars, and document the growing Los Angeles middle class of the 1890s.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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