Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Jack London, seafarer who wrote with light
Jack London, Photographer./ by Jeanne Campbell, Sara S. Hodson & Philip Adam. Published by the University of Georgia Press, 2010. 272 p., illustrations, portraits, notes, photo credits, index.
Revealing his extra-creative side, this collection of approximately 400 photographs captures the spirit of events through portraits of people and aspects of maritime history from Jack London’s travels to cultures in the Pacific Rim.
The main photographic portfolios in the book are chapters entitled: People of the Abyss (1903); the Russo-Japanese War (1904); the San Francisco Earthquake (1906); the Cruise of the Snark (1907-09); the Voyage of the Dirigo (1912) and the Mexican Revolution (1914). These are bracketed by images of London at work, from 1902 to 1914, from the early days of his dual role as writer and photographer.
London’s images were powerful sketches of “… how some relatively unexplored places and unknown peoples appeared one hundred years ago…” p. ix
Co-author Philip Adams calls London a proto-photojournalist, because he did have an active role in depicting major world events such as the Russo-Japanese War and the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 for newspapers and magazines; his images were featured in the San Francisco Examiner, McClure’s, and Cosmopolitan magazine.
From 1900 to 1914, when images in this book were originally made, photography became more portable and easier to manage in real-life situations, far from studio set-ups. Kodak roll film, film that could be advanced in the camera without cumbersome procedures to keep already exposed images safe, became available. And the camera grew lighter and smaller than for sheet film. Subjects could be more selectively composed and recorded more spontaneously. Although he was a journalist in a broad sense, he was adept at selecting and presenting his particular worldview. His life goals coincided with a time when printing and photographic technologies merged to give the public illustrated news. He was…
“… drawn to any subject that indicated the struggle to survive… as he highly valued the individual.” p. 9
We can see that London’s fervor for adventure and for writing was as strong as his choice of subjects in photographs. He produced books with illustrated essays: the most relevant today is People of the Abyss in which he sought to portray England’s inner-city poor, the forgotten poor whose basic needs were ignored by the higher-class populace. His images of the Russian-Japanese War show Chinese and Korean daily life, immigration by ship, Japanese soldiers, children and the aged. The 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and the images shot while sailing the Pacific were no more personal, no less stunning in effect on the viewer. The picture albums were saved by London’s wife, Charmian, and by his sister, Eliza. London died in 1916, and the work was donated to the Huntington Library, with negatives kept with the California State Parks system. These collections represent a wealth of history not widely recognized.
For closer inspection:
People of the Abyss, published in 1903, also published in 2008 by Akasha Publishing.
An online exhibit of Jack London’s photographs from the California Historical Society’s web page.
Jack London Web Sites featuring Sonoma State University Collection and The Huntington Library’s Jack London Collection.
Books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library are available for borrowing by Museum members. See the book Jack London, Photographer./ by Jeanne Campbell, Sara S. Hodson & Philip Adam in our online catalog.
More new book titles in the Library can be viewed in the Library at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum or online at
New books and pamphlet this month!