About This Image

Thomas Houseworth (1828-1916) was born I n New York and migrated to California in 1849 inspired by gold rush fever. He spent two years prospecting before lack of success turned him back to lens grinding, the skill in which he had apprenticed as a teenager. In 1851 he joined forces with George Lawrence, an optometrist, and opened an office at 177 Clay Street in San Francisco. In 1859 the partnership began selling stereoscopic views of the West which became enormously popular. They also won awards for photography in many exhibitions. In 1868 Lawrence retired leaving Houseworth in charge of both the optical and photographic businesses.

According to Dr. David S. Shields, McClintock Professor, University of South Carolina’s website Broadway Photographs, “Houseworth's studio at 317 and 319 Montgomery Street became the center for another stream of business: celebrity photography. Houseworth was a capable operator himself, but delegated much of his studio work to his staff, hence his designation of his studio as Thomas Houseworth & Company (1867-1874). Houseworth ran a diversified studio that engaged in stereoscopic landscape work, society portraiture, celebrity publicity, and urban documentary photography employing a stable of operators with different specialties. Among the photographers who worked for Houseworth were William Evan James (1875-1881), Louis Thors, George Fiske (1872-73), Charles Weed (1864), Thomas Hart (1864-66), Eadweard Muybridge, and perhaps Carlton Watkins.

In 1873 Houseworth opened his three-story Art Parlor at 12 Montgomery. This became the site of portrait sittings. His organizational abilities and effectiveness as a publisher won him respect among camera professionals, expressed in his selection as first president of the Photographic Art Society of the Pacific organized in 1875.

Much is made by photographic historians of the cooption of Muybridge's 1872 photos of Yosemite by Houseworth's rival, Bradley & Rulofson, with suggestions that Houseworth may have bankrolled Muybridge's trip to the site. While the contretemps produced some ugly talk in the papers and a spat in the courts, the affair did not lead to the decline of Houseworth's business. Because of the preoccupation of historians with the scenic views, they have not noticed the redirection of Houseworth's photographic work to his celebrity portraiture as the novelty of western scenery began to decline in the 1880s.”

Houseworth’s portrait work did not find the success of others who brought a more contemporary flare to portraiture. By 1890 he returned to optical work exclusively.

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Mariposa Groove, Grizzly Giant, 101 Feet Circumference
Thomas Houseworth & Co. Mariposa Groove, Grizzly Giant, 101 Feet Circumference

Price $20,000

Main Image

Ref.# 16061

Medium Albumen print from wet plate negative

Mount on original mount

Photo Date 1872  Print Date 1872c

Dimensions 20-3/8 x 15-9/16 in. (518 x 395 mm)

Photo Country United States (USA)

Photographer Country United States (USA)


Alex Novak and Marthe Smith

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Contemporary Works / Vintage Works, Ltd.


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