White, Jesse

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Biographical/Historical note

Jesse White is a professional photographer working out of Sacramento and Los Angeles Ca. He is a graduate of Lewis and Clark College, and has spent the last fifteen years working both as an IASTE member in the film industry as well as a private photographer. He is using a digital 35mm camera with lenses of equivalent focal length to that which Hart used. Complete modern replication of the Hart collection is anticipated in the spring of 2010.

Biographical/Historical note

Alfred Hart was born in Norwich, Connecticut in 1816. Hart initially worked as a portrait painter before he moved to California in 1863 to work as a photographer. By 1864, he was the official photographer for the Central Pacific Railroad. As the railroad's photographer, Hart could pause railroad construction to pose the railroad workers or even stop trains at photo opportunities. He published 364 images as the Central Pacific Railroad photographer between 1864 and 1869. Eventually, Charles E. Leonard of the publishing company Horton & Leonard published a book of Hart's Central Pacific photos in 1870, titled "The Traveler's Own Book." In spite of Hart's publishing success, Central Pacific director Collis Huntington hired a new railroad photographer in 1870 and Hart traveled east to offer his services as a photographer for both the Nevada and Utah Railroad and the Pullman Company. Hart did not publish a photo after he left the Central Pacific Railroad. Throughout the 1870s, Hart traveled the country before settling in New York in 1881. While he filed multiple patents for new photographic devices, Hart's inventions never made him much money. He lived in relative poverty in New York City before he returned to California in 1906. He died on March 5, 1908 in Alameda County Infirmary. While Hart is primarily remembered for his brief period as a railroad photographer, he always considered himself an artist.

Hart used a Steno wet-plate camera, an American-made camera that was commonly used in the 1860s. Wet plate cameras required mixing collodion, a thick liquid made of dissolved nitrated cotton in alcohol, with light-sensitive salts on a pane of glass. Once the alcohol in the collodion evaporated, one placed the glass in silver nitrate to form a light sensitive compound silver iodide on the glass surface, but the pane of glass had to be exposed in the camera before the collodion dried. This process meant Hart had to act quickly, especially as he frequently took several shots of the same place within minutes of each other. His photo pack likely weighed about eighteen pounds, with his tripod making up much of that weight. His cumbersome tripod did not allow the camera to tip or turn, and it could not be adjusted much for height. Hart often chose dangerous spots to take his photos, from precarious cliffs to the top of railroad cars.

[Information gathered from Mead Kibbey's excellent book, The Railroad Photographs of Alfred A. Hart, Artist ]

From the guide to the The Alfred A. Hart Photo Project collection, 2008-2011, (Dept. of Special Collections & University Archives.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn John Eldon Thayer collection of motion picture memorabilia, 1916-1979. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
creatorOf The Alfred A. Hart Photo Project collection, 2008-2011 Cecil H. Green Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Hart, Alfred A., 1816-1908 person
associatedWith Stanford University. The Spatial History Project. corporateBody
associatedWith Thayer, John Eldon, 1899-1980 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
California--Pictorial views


Birth 1917-01-04

Death 1997-01-09


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