October 4, 2013

Henry Kaiser develops a taste for documentary truth

Henry J. Kaiser's first photography shop "Brownell and Kaiser," Lake Placid, NY, circa 1900; from Henry J. Kaiser: Builder in the Modern American West

Contributed by Lincoln Cushing, Archivist and Historian

One of Henry J. Kaiser's first jobs was working in a photography store in Lake Placid, New York at the turn of the century. By his 20s he had saved enough to buy out his employer and spend his winters in Florida selling pictures and photographic supplies. There he learned a valuable lesson about art and human nature.

"What disillusioned me about photography is that people didn't want to be photographed as they looked. I remember one year I switched to landscape photography and began taking pictures in Daytona Beach for the Florida East Coast Railway. No one liked the pictures, because they were accurate. Later, when I used props and other false things, the pictures sold like hotcakes. That's when I decided to quit the business. I just couldn't stand falsifying nature." — Quotation from "Kaiser: Pasha of the Pacific," Parade magazine, February 8, 1958.

Henry Kaiser's photographic legacy lives on through the University of California's huge Henry J. Kaiser pictorial collection which contains approximately 75,000 items (photographic prints, negatives, and albums). Some examples of these holdings include "Clarence Smith, yard 3. January 3, 1946,"  "Richmond workers in training class. September 12, 1945," and "Jack Harris and Geo. Hammond. May 28, 1946."