O’SULLIVAN, TIMOTHY HENRY (1840–1882)
American photographer, probably born Ireland
While little evidence survives regarding the personal life of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan, his pho- tographic legacy is extensive. O’Sullivan was a major figure in two areas of early American photography: the documentation of the Civil War and the survey photog- raphy of the American West.
From the outset, O’Sullivan’s personal life presents more questions than answers. He was born in 1840, probably in Ireland, to parents Jeremiah and Ann O’Sullivan. His family moved to the United States in 1842, as part of the massive wave of immigrants who fled the severe potato famine in Ireland. His birthplace has been mistakenly reported as New York City, because O’Sullivan himself made this claim on a questionnaire when applying for work at the U.S. Treasury Depart- ment, but O’Sullivan biographers have determined this to be incorrect.
By the age of 18, O’Sullivan had begun working in Mathew Brady’s photographic studio in Washington D.C., which was being managed by Alexander Gardner. The studio, like most in photography’s early years, was dedicated to making portraits, but with the onset of the Civil War, Brady turned his attention to the pursuit of field photography. By 1861, Gardner and O’Sullivan both belonged to Brady’s “Photographic Corps” which became known for its war views. Late in 1862 Gardner had had a falling out with Brady and left to begin a photographic business of his own. O’Sullivan continued with Brady for a short time longer, but it is thought that when Gardner opened his own studio in Washington in May of 1863, O’Sullivan joined Gardner. O’Sullivan’s work for Gardner included copying maps for the Union Army’s strategic use, as well as making a variety of
views of the war including individual and group portraits of military members and civilians engaged in the war, views of camps, forts, bridges, railroads, buildings, earthworks, towns, fields and plantations, and of changes wrought by the war.
These photographs were published in Catalogue of Photographic Incidents of the War from the Gallery of Alexander Gardner, Photographer to the Army of the Potomac, 1863 and Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, 1865/1866. Some of O’Sullivan’s most memorable photographs were of the battlefield dead. Perhaps his most famous, A Harvest of Death, made at Gettysburg in 1863 and published in Gardner’s Photo- graphic Sketch Book of the War, shows a field littered with bloated Union corpses. A mounted soldier and the distant hills blur out of focus in the background. Instead of using a standard eye-level viewpoint, O’Sullivan has placed his camera close to the ground, bringing the viewer nearer to the dead men. This low vantage point also causes the battlefield to appear to rake steeply upward, filling more of the picture plane. Rather than aggrandize the heroics of war, O’Sullivan forces the viewer to confront the reality of the war’s casualties. Including this powerful image, O’Sullivan made a total of forty-four negatives of the 100 published in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, most of them landscape views of architecture including forts, bridges, railroad stations, churches, homes and tents employed by the army during the war.
Beginning with his field photography during the civil war, and continuing into his survey photography, Timothy O’Sullivan made glass plate collodion nega- tives. This method, also known as wet-plate because of the process of coating the glass with wet collodion just prior to exposure in the camera, was particularly difficult when employed in the field. The coating process (as well as the need to develop the negative immediately after exposure) required field photographers to travel with portable darkrooms, or dark tents. In order to make large photographic prints, large glass negatives were needed, and traveling across the countryside by wagon with chemicals, large wooden cameras, and many sheets of glass made the process of photography quite burden- some by today’s standards.
Throughout his career, in addition to single views, O’Sullivan made stereographic views of his war and sur- vey subjects. These stereographs, which were collected widely in Victorian America, display two nearly identi- cal images side-by-side, mounted on a small card.
Designed to imitate human binocular vision, they are best seen in a special viewer, called a stereoscope, which blocks out peripheral vision and creates the illusion of a three-dimensional image. Since these images are created with a special camera featuring two lenses separated by the same distance as human eyes, O’Sullivan had to travel with even more photographic equipment in order to make stereographic views.
In 1867, O’Sullivan was appointed to the Geological Explorations of the Fortieth Parallel by Clarence King, the United States Geologist in Charge. The survey had two explicit concerns: to study the natural resources along the Union and Central Pacific Railroads, and to document the geology of a section of the West one hundred miles wide from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Rocky Mountains. Unstated, but implicit in the goals of the survey, was that this research would help to promote the future development of the region by white settlers. This meant identifying possibilities for economic development, recording the local flora and fauna, evaluating the opportunities for mining, and as- sessing Indian hostilities. For King, as a geologist, this survey was also an important opportunity to produce not just a geological section, but a geological history, which would support his fervent belief in the concept of Catastrophism. This theory asserted that geological features of the earth’s surface were created by a se- ries of catastrophic and violent events, such as floods and earthquakes, rather than by slow evolution. King intended for O’Sullivan’s geological photographs to illustrate his survey report, and therefore to visually demonstrate Catastrophism.
O’Sullivan had his photographic supplies shipped ahead, and then traveled to San Francisco by way of the Isthmus of Panama. Once there the party gathered in Sacramento, California, and set out on July 3, 1867. The going was arduous—King’s men endured steep, snowy mountain passes, hot desert basins, and rough rivers. Most of the men caught malaria, O’Sullivan being one of the few to avoid it. While little has come down to us in O’Sullivan’s own words, one of the rare written records of a survey expedition is a story that was published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in September 1869.
The article, entitled “Photographs From the High Rock- ies,” does not mention O’Sullivan by name, but scholars believe the story relates his exploits on King’s survey. In one colorful episode the article recounts how the photographer’s boat became lodged against some rocks while descending the Truckee River, which flows from Lake Tahoe in California to Pyramid Lake in Nevada. Concerned that the boat would be dashed to pieces by debris crashing along in the rough water, O’Sullivan stripped off his clothes and dove into the raging river. From the shore, he maneuvered ropes to free the boat and brought it to safety. This story suggests the danger and adventure that were an inherent part of exploring and photographing the rugged Western country for members of the nineteenth-century survey expeditions like King’s.
The first season, in 1867, O’Sullivan photographed in Western Nevada and made his now-famous and other- worldly image of the tufa domes in Pyramid Lake. The King party spent that winter in Virginia City and Carson City, Nevada, and in the former O’Sullivan made pho- tographs of the gold and silver mines, several hundred feet under ground. Not only were conditions unbear- ably hot, with temperatures reaching more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit, but the darkness of the mine shafts required O’Sullivan to use a magnesium flare to make his exposures. Despite these difficult circumstances, he produced many photographs of miners and the interior of the mines. In 1868, O’Sullivan continued to work in Western Nevada, and also photographed Mono Lake, California, and the Snake River and Shoshone Falls in southern Idaho. O’Sullivan returned to Washington D.C. in the winter of 1868-9 to print his first survey photographs, which were used internally but not pub- lished. In fact, throughout his career as an expedition photographer, O’Sullivan never printed in the field. He made negatives as he traveled, and only saw his results later, when he printed back in the East. Also upon his return to Washington D.C. in 1868, O’Sullivan began his courtship of Laura Virginia Pywell, whom he would later marry. By May of 1869 he was back in the West, on his third survey season with Clarence King, photographing the mountains near Salt Lake City, as well as northern Utah, and southern Wyoming.
In January of 1870, during a lull in the surveying while King waited to see if future appropriations would be forthcoming, O’Sullivan photographed on the Atlantic side of the present-day Isthmus of Panama (then the Isth- mus of Darien, in the State of Panama in Colombia). This position with a Navy Department survey, whose mandate was to identify a canal route, yielded photographs of the ship and crew, along with some views of native Indian villages, coastline and architecture. The region’s dense foliage and the high humidity, however, prevented the topographical views that were the survey’s goal. After seven months, O’Sullivan returned to the United States and was replaced by the Navy with photographer John Moran. The change in personnel has caused confusion in attributing the Panama photographs, resulting in many Moran photographs being credited to O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan, Timothy H., Print Attributed to Alexander Gardner. Admiral David Dixon Porter on the deck of his flagship the “Malver” after the victory at Ft. Fisher, North Carolina.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles © The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Lieutenant George Montague Wheeler hired O’Sullivan in September of 1870 to join his survey of the American Southwest, with permission from King, who maintained O’Sullivan on his payroll. Wheeler’s expeditions were different from King’s in several ways: Wheeler’s survey was the only military expedition of the four major expeditions to be conducted in the West, and unlike King, Wheeler appreciated the value of photographs in the promotion of the survey itself. The survey’s goals were similar to King’s: to prepare accurate maps, document the physical features of the land, find sites for roads and military operations, assess the population and disposition of the resident Indian peoples, and evaluate the geology and vegetation as to their usefulness to settlers.
In May of 1871, O’Sullivan set out from Halleck Station, Nevada with Wheeler’s crew, but because he had more seniority in Western surveys than the other explorers, O’Sullivan was often entrusted to head up side trips apart from Wheeler. Lieut. Wheeler led even more arduous expeditions than O’Sullivan had experienced with King. In their first season the survey team endured tremendous heat crossing Death Valley, and Wheeler often forced extended marches that lasted more than a day. The most challenging part of the trip involved traveling more than 200 miles up the Colorado River to the Grand Canyon. The party was divided into three boats: one headed by Wheeler, another by O’Sullivan and a third by Grove Karl Gilbert, the geologist on the expedition. The difficult journey took more than 30 days in all, and in the process Wheeler’s boat was destroyed, along with many of his survey notes. Despite the physi- cal challenge of the ascent, O’Sullivan was able to make photographs of the river canyon and of the crew, includ- ing the Mohave Indians who accompanied the survey team. This first season with Wheeler also included an exploration of the mining districts in Nevada, and a period photographing in Northern Arizona. At the end of the survey season, O’Sullivan returned to Washington D.C. to print the season’s work.
During the 1872 season, O’Sullivan returned to work with Clarence King photographing in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, but by 1873 was back with Wheeler. The intervening winter allowed O’Sullivan to print two sets of King survey photographs which were sent to the 1873 World’s Fair in Vienna, along with other printing for both the King and Wheeler expeditions. On 11 February 1873, while in Washington D.C., O’Sullivan married his longtime sweetheart Laura Virginia Pywell. That year he spent the season in Arizona and New Mex- ico, making images of the Grand Canyon, and taking perhaps his most famous survey photograph, an image of the White House Ruins in Canyon de Chelly. The Indians settled near Santa Fe and in Arizona also became a primary subject that season. The winter of 1873–4 was again spent in Washington D.C. printing for both King and Wheeler, and in May O’Sullivan began producing official sets of images from Wheeler’s survey, which were comprised of both large format and stereographic views. In July of 1874 O’Sullivan embarked on what would be his last season of photography in the West. He began in New Mexico and Colorado photograph- ing Indians and the countryside for Wheeler, and then took a solo trip to a site he had photographed many years before: Shoshone Falls in Idaho. These would be O’Sullivan’s last photographs in the West.
Once again the winter found O’Sullivan printing in Washington D.C. but this time that work continued through the middle of 1876. After that little is known about O’Sullivan’s work; in 1878 he appears in the Washington D.C. directory as the partner of another photographer, William J. Armstrong, but it seems that venture did not last long. He was on the payroll at the United States Geological Service under King tempo- rarily in 1880, and was the photographer to the U.S. Department of the Treasury from November 1880 to March of 1881, but retired with tuberculosis of the lungs. In September of 1881, O’Sullivan returned to his parents’ home in Staten Island, too ill to take care of himself. On 18 October 1881, O’Sullivan’s wife died of tuberculosis in Washington, D.C. and he traveled to attend her funeral there, returning to Staten Island. On 14 January 1882, Timothy H. O’Sullivan died on Staten Island, also from tuberculosis, at the age of 42.
Timothy H. O’Sullivan was born in 1840, probably in Ireland, to Jeremiah and Ann O’Sullivan. His family
emigrated to the United States in 1842. In 1861 and 1862 O’Sullivan photographed the Civil War for Mathew Brady, but spent the rest of the war working for Alex- ander Gardner. His war photographs were published in Photographic Incidents of the War from the Gallery of Alexander Gardner, Photographer to the Army of the Potomac and Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, 1865/1866. In 1867 he was appointed to Clarence King’s Geological Explorations of the Fortieth Parallel and photographed for King in 1867-1869 and again in 1872 in California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho. O’Sullivan spent six months of 1870 with the Darien Expedition, photographing in present-day Panama, but the wet weather and heavy foliage ham- pered much successful work. That same year he was hired by Lieutenant George Wheeler to participate in his explorations, eventually known as the United States Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian. Between 1871 and 1874, O’Sullivan spent three seasons photographing for Wheeler in California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. During his time with the western surveys, most winters were spent printing negatives made during the explora- tion season. 1874 marked his last year photographing in the West, after which he returned to Washington D.C., where he continued to work, including a brief job with the United States Treasury Department in 1880–1881. He left the government position just five months after beginning, due to tuberculosis, from which he died on 14 January 1882, at age 42.
OEHME, CARL GUSTAV (1817–1881)
German instrument maker and photographer
Carl Gustav Oehme was born in Berlin in 1817, and trained as a mechanic or mechanical instrument maker. He is reported as having visited Paris in 1840 where he met Daguerre, and learned the rudiments of the daguerreotype process from him, returning to Berlin in 1841 where he was one of the first artists to exhibit daguerreotypes in Germany.
While in France, he met fellow German L. Philipp Graff (1814–1851), an optical instrument maker and later professional photographer, and Graff also con- tributed daguerreotypes to the 1841 exhibition. Oehme and Graff went on to become two of the most important early photographers in Berlin.
Oehme opened a studio in Berlin in 1843 at No. 20 Jagerstrasse, from where, trading as Gustav Oehme, he produced daguerreotype portraits for many years. He was still using the process into the later 1850s.
Some sources suggest that he also operated a por- trait studio in Hamburg 1854/5, but this has yet to be confirmed.
Oehme’s surviving daguerreotypes, predominantly 1/6th plate size, evidence masterful control of soft yet directional lighting, and a sensitivity towards posing which gave his group portraits a natural appearance which belies the long exposures necessary.
OGAWA KAZUMASA (1860–1929)
Ogawa Kazumasa (the characters used in his given name are also read Kazuma or Isshin) was born Au- gust 15, 1860, in present-day Saitama prefecture, near Tokyo. He was the second son of Harada Shôzaemon, a samurai and retainer of the Matsudaira clan, and his wife Miyoko. At the age of three Ogawa became the adopted son of Ogawa Ishitarô, a common practice in nineteenth-century Japan.
Ogawa had a strong interest in English, and was first introduced to photography around age 13 through his
English tutor, a British missionary. Around the same time he also had a chance to visit the studio of Uchida Kuichi, then the premier photographer in Tokyo, which further piqued his interest. Ogawa became familiar with the wet collodion negative process while serving as an apprentice to the photographer Yoshiwara Hideo for six months during the mid-1870s. In 1877, just seventeen years old, he opened his first photography studio in Gunma Prefecture with a second-hand quarter-plate camera that he used to take carte-de-visite portraits. Despite the limited availability of quality photographic chemicals and supplies, it appears that this studio was quite successful. However, Ogawa closed it in 1880 and resolved to go abroad to further his photographic knowledge.
Ogawa made his way to the United States as a sailor on an American frigate, spending eighteen months in Boston and Philadelphia in 1883–1884. He studied portraiture, carbon printing and plate making, and col- lotype in Boston. In Philadelphia he studied dry plate techniques and manufacturing with John Carbutt, who developed the first commercial dry plate negative. Ogawa sent news of the latest advances in American photography back to Japan, where they were published in Shashin shimpô (Photographic News), Japan’s first photography periodical. He also shipped dry plates, which were just starting to be used in Japan around this time. The information he conveyed to other Japanese photographers experimenting with dry-plate technology was instrumental in helping them successfully master the technique.
After returning to Japan, Ogawa established a studio in Tokyo in 1885 called the Gyokujunkan, and thereafter rapidly became involved with a number of innovative photography-related businesses and projects. Ogawa had several appointments and commissions that gave him access to an unusually wide range of subjects. In 1886 he was appointed photography instructor for the army, in a division that was then part of the Land Survey Department. In 1888 he participated in a survey of Japanese cultural assets under the auspices of the government. His affiliations with the military and the government enabled him to photograph such varied subjects as the Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese war, the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion, the palace buildings of the Forbidden City, Beijing, and antique sculpture, paintings, and architecture of ancient temples in Kyoto and Nara. His style was also varied, ranging from straightforward documentary photographs to beautifully composed artistic images that prefigured a modernist aesthetic.
Perhaps even more noteworthy than the diversity of his subject matter, however, was his influential role in developing photographic printing techniques within Japan and in promoting a domestic photographic industry. In 1888 Ogawa, Kajima Seibei, and William K. Burton, an amateur photographer and a professor of engineering at Tokyo Imperial University, formed the Tsukiji Kampan Seizô Kaisha (Tsukiji Dry-Plate Manufacturing Company), one of Japan’s earliest com- mercial dry-plate manufacturers. Although it folded several years later, Ogawa continued to support other domestic dry-plate companies. He then established Japan’s first photoengraving company, Ogawa Shashin Seihanjo (Ogawa Plate-Making Shop) in 1889. Through the Ogawa Shashin Seihanjo, he became a prominent publisher and produced numerous books featuring high quality collotype images. Ogawa himself took many of the photographs. Among the earliest items published by the Ogawa Shashin Seihanjo was Japan’s first art magazine, Kokka (National Essence), still in produc- tion today. Kokka focused on traditional Japanese art and early issues reproduced Ogawa’s classic images of Japanese Buddhist sculpture taken as part of the 1888 survey of cultural assets.
Significantly, Ogawa’s books were largely directed towards a Western audience, and consequently he played an enormously important role in exposing Japan to the West as it emerged from two and a half centuries of isolationism. Most of his publications included English language captions and information, sometimes com- bined with Japanese text; many were so popular that they were printed in multiple editions. Typical topics were scenic or general themes that appealed to West- erners’ curiosity about Japan. Some sample titles are: Illustrations of Japanese Life, with collotypes of people engaged in various daily activities, issued in multiple editions between 1892–1918; The Charming Views in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun (1904), with 174 black and white photographs covering all areas of Japan includ- ing Formosa (Taiwan) and Korea; and Photographs of Japanese Customs and Manners, with several editions published around 1900. Flowers were another common subject and Ogawa released titles such as Lilies of Japan and Chrysanthemums of Japan. The full-page color col- lotypes of flowers he contributed to the multi-volume work Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, published by J. B. Millet Company in the late 1890s, are among his best-known work. And of course there was the perennially favorite theme of geisha. In 1891, Ogawa was commissioned to photograph 100 local geisha to celebrate the opening of the Ryôunkaku or “Asakusa Twelve Stories,” an amusement center in the tallest building in Tokyo. These images as well as other portraits of geisha were incorporated into various edi- tions released over the next decade, including Types of Japan, Celebrated Geysha of Tokyo (1892); Celebrated Geishas of Tokio (1895); and Geisha of Tokyo (multiple versions, 1898–1902).
Ogawa’s other activities included being a founding 1022
member of Japan’s first amateur photography associa- tion, Nihon Shashinkai (the Japan Photographic Society) in 1889. The same year he established a second version of Shashin shimpô (the first version, mentioned above, had ceased publication in 1884) and served as editor until 1896. He became the first Japanese photographer to be nominated as a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of England in 1895, and was the first photog- rapher appointed as a member of the Japanese Imperial Art Academy in 1910.
Ogawa was well regarded during his lifetime, widely recognized for his innovation in establishing new photo- graphic technologies in Japan. Based on his influence on the Japanese photography industry, the many activities in which he was involved, and his reputation as a superb photographer, Burton described him as “the greatest au- thority on photographic matters in his country” (Burton, 1894, 185). In 2004 he continues to be regarded as a pivotal figure and a pioneering entrepreneur in Japanese photographic history. His work is in the collections of Nagasaki University and the Tokyo Metropolitan Mu- seum of Photography.
OLIE, JACOB (1834–1905)
An animated nineteenth-century amateur photographer in Amsterdam
To Jacob Olie photography was a pursuit which he prac- tised intensively in his youth and again in later life after an interlude of 25 years. Olie was originally trained as a carpenter and took lessons in drawing and in theoretical subjects at a private technical school. At the age of 16 he joined the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Bouwkunst (Society for the Advancement of Architecture) and in 1855, he and a small group of kindred spirits founded the society Architectura et Amicitia, a debating club where the international magazine portfolio brought news of developments in the arts, the natural sciences and tech- nology. It was in these circles that Olie received further theoretical training and his wider cultural interests were shaped. He translated sections of E.E. Viollet-le-Duc’s Entretiens sur l’architecture and lectured on Grammaire des arts du dessin by Charles Blanc, former director of the Paris École des Beaux Arts. During the years he also participated succesfully in many competitions for artistic architectural designs.
The first time the word ‘photography’ was mentioned at one of the society’s meetings was by Olie in 1857. He cited a report from a Dutch periodical about the Architectural Photographic Society that had been set up in London with the aim to provide its members with reasonably priced photographic illustrations of ‘note- worthy’ buildings from all countries. The matter came up once again, but Olie received little response among his fellow members for his proposal to collaborate with the English and exchange photographs for measured drawings.
For architects the photograph and the drawing were not comparable media. For someone like Viollet-le- Duc, drawing was a higher form of seeing, despite the importance he attached to photography as an aid in restoration. However, at the weekly art reviews more and more photographs were shown. In 1859 Olie brought along a series of stereoscopic views of Amsterdam by Pieter Oosterhuis. Shortly thereafter, he began himself experimenting with the art of photography.
Olie probably took his first photographs in the sum- mer of 1861, only a few months after he had started his career as a teacher of architectural drawing at the technical school. At that time there were enough publica- tions available with technical instructions for would-be photographers. In his notebooks Olie copied recipes for collodion, which he had taken from E. Robiquet (Manuel théorique et pratique de photographie sur collodion et sur albumine, 1859) and A.A.E. Disdéri (L’Art et la Photographie, 1862), among others. Olie built his own camera, a simple model, similar to the earliest daguerreotype cameras, which could take glass plates of 10.5 × 12.8 cm which he cut himself from window glass.
That first summer Olie explored the utterly familiar world of the busy dockland and industrial area where he was born and where he still lived among his ex- tended family of craftsmen, ship-builders and timber merchants. Here he took scenes not normally recorded by commercial photographers: a ship under construc-
tion, a mast-makers yard, or views taken from the deck of a ship.
In 1862 Olie equipped his camera with a new lens of sharper definition and took up portraiture, a genre which he had never attempted as a draughtsmen. He made more than 150 portraits of his family, friends and acquaintances, sometimes capturing them in their own environment, and on other occasions against an artificial backdrop of cloths, rugs and props, like those used in the professional portrait studio. Sometimes Olie moved his darkroom equipment to friends and relatives who lived in the city centre and photographed from their attic win- dows. In some cases the views he made from these high vantage points can be fitted together to breath-taking panoramas. They provide a unique and highly personal portrait of Amsterdam’s city centre. Unlike his drawings, Olie never submitted his photographs to exhibitions, but in 1864 and 1865 he presented his albumen and salted-paper prints to his colleagues at an Architectura et Amicitia meeting. Soon after, he abandoned his pho- tographic experiments for many years.
Olie would only return to photography after his re- tirement as headmaster of the technical school in 1890. By then, he was a 56-year-old widower with four young children ranging from four to eleven years of age. He still used the same camera but fitted with a new lens. Olie built a number of ingenious cassettes which he could load at home with ready-made dry-gelatin plates of 9x12 and 13 × 18 cm. In the intervening years, his interest in photography had not waned. Olie gave slide shows for his pupils and others audiences with the magic lantern. The teacher in him recognized the educational potential of the picture machine and it may well have inspired him to produce his photographs specially for it.
Between 1890 and 1904 Olie took over 3600 photo- graphs, most of them portraying the city of Amsterdam, including street scenes and residents and workers in their own surroundings. Amsterdam was in the process of rapid transformation and Olie recorded construction works at different stages of completion, moving about the building sites freely as he knew the architect, the client or the building contractor. Often his views are not topographical in the strictest sense, but the city serves as a backdrop for public events—military parades and balloon lift-offs, visits by dignitaries and ship launch- ings. He continued to display a predilection for high viewpoints in this period, even when it was no longer strictly necessary.
What fascinated Olie was the new architecture within its urban context. Unlike some artists of his day, he was not charmed by decay. Although the painter-photog- rapher G.H. Breitner and Olie were both admirers of Amsterdam’s beauty, they produced quite distinct bodies of work. While Breitner reinforced the shabbiness of the old districts and evoked the dank atmosphere of decay, Olie composed views in which old and new fused into an organic whole. Olie’s photography is also very dif- ferent from that of the younger generation of pictorial photographers who sought to render the ‘soul’ of the city in atmospheric photographs. Employing refined photographic processes, they would often blur the city’s contours in their hand-crafted prints. In contrast, Olie’s photographs are lucid images of a tangible world.
After the turn of the century, Olie began to use a modern, hand-held camera which could take several 9 × 12 cm glass plates. It gave him a new mobility and allowed him to work in a more casual manner. Olie and his family were zealous hoarders. Besides the thousands of photographs, negatives and drawings he left behind, a veritable mountain of personal material has been preserved. The Amsterdam city archives purchased this rich legacy from his heirs in two portions, in 1959 and 1990.
Jacob Olie was born on 17 October 1834 in Amsterdam, from a long line of raftsmen and whalers. Trained as a carpenter and an architectural draughtsman, he taught drawing at the first technical school in Amsterdam from 1861 on, and in 1868 became its headmaster. As a member of the leading architectural societies in the Netherlands, he studied zealously architectural and art history and played an active role in the debates on archi- tectural theory and the concepts of form. He practised and demonstrated his skills in drawing and design in many competitions. In 1861 Olie started to photograph with a daguerreotype-model camera which he had built himself, using wet-collodion plates. The next four years he portrayed the dockland and industrial area where he was born and still lived, choosing unusual subject matter. He also made many portraits of his family, friends and acquaintances, and used their homes in the city center to set up his darkroom equipment and pho- tograph the views from their windows which in some cases can be fitted together to large panoramas. Pres- sure of work forced him to abandon his pursuit. After his retirement in 1890 Olie took up photograpy again, this time on industrial dry-gelatine plates. Until the age of 70, Olie worked at fever pitch, producing some 3600 photographs of Amsterdam, outlying areas, and the wide surroundings. He was particularly interested in the transformation of the capital into a modern city, focussing on new architecture as an organic part of the urban context. He never exhibited his photographs, but projected them as lantern slides to a wide audience. Ja- cob Olie died in Amsterdam on 25 April 1905. His rich legacy is kept at the Amsterdam city archives.