Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation

Protecting and Preserving All Life -- By Extending Human Vision

The Perfect Image

Today it is called, “The Money Shot.”  Arthur C. Pillsbury never mentioned the name he used for that one image, which would be used as the best from a photo session, but how he ensured it happened reveals him as a consummate professional.  

Pillsbury had a long list of regular commercial customers built up over decades. These  included Edward H. Mitchell of San Francisco, Underwood & Underwood, and Pacific Novelty, for printing and major studios for his nature short features and educational supply houses for his educational films.  His photos were published in national magazines, such as National Geographic, Popular Science, Ladies Home Journal and Sunset Magazine.  He had started with Sunset while it was controlled by the  Passenger Department of the Southern Pacific Railroad.  Book publishers and authors routinely used his photos, which also appeared, without attribution, in brochures and as post cards.  

His motion pictures, were filmed during his shoots, showed at his own theatre, as short features in regular movie theaters, and as educational films.  Processing was finished within days, giving him a constant supply of new material. 

Different photos taken during one session could end up being used as stereo views, magic lantern slides, postcards, prints, d'orotones, novelty items, in newspapers, magazines, and books.  Individual customers received different shots.  A former photojournalist for the San Francisco Examiner, Pillsbury was well able to find markets for his work. 

  His photo shoots were run with military precision so he could fill orders for photos and for his own needs.  He typically took several cameras on a shoot, including a Graftex, a stereo camera,  one or two panorama cameras, horizontal and vertical, and a motion picture camera, all of which were used.  Below, his son describes a shoot to Lady Franklin Rock, which took place in between 1914 – 1917.   

R' - Arthur F. Pillsbury, son of Arthur C. Pillsbury on the right.  At Tioga Pass.
“If there were to be waterfalls in the picture, pictures had to be made in the spring, when the falls were high.  Uncle was never satisfied with his pictures, and was always taking new ones.  This was particularly true as new film and filters came out so that he could get more and better cloud effects.  He might make a decision at a moment, and off we would go.  I remember one trip to Lady Franklin Rock, the best spot for pictures of Vernal Falls.  We were off shortly after breakfast, parked at Happy Isles, and carried all the gear to be there before 10:30 when the shadows at that time of year were just right.  The cameras were all set up, and ready to do, well before 10:30.  Uncle watched, and we kids played until he called that the clouds were right.  Before too long, the cameras were back in their cases, and we were carrying tripods and cases back down the trail.”
Each camera was set carefully so nothing of the other cameras showed.  Each shot would be unique, fulfilling the needs of either a specific client or providing for the continuous needs of his own business. The panorama cameras, two horizontal and vertical, provided shots which, by duplicating the negative, could be used for several final photos.
When Pillsbury adopted his two nephews and niece in 1911 some things changed on his photo sessions.  The KIDS became his helpers, coming along and assisting with carrying, setting up the equipment, and participating.  They enjoyed this thoroughly and helped 'set the scene,' as noted in an article written by long time Yosemite company employee, Hil Oehlmann.  “Pillsbury was an imaginative photographer who was not easily deterred by obstacles which would have given pause to the more conventional.....One of his handsomest photographs of the grove showed a good-sized dogwood tree blooming in the foreground.  The tree had not been in precisely the right spot, so he had solved that problem handily with the axe he carried in his car.”
The Pillsbury Study of Yosemite & its Seasons
Additionally, using the grounding plate of his camera and his notes, Pillsbury rephotographed specific views several times a year.  By so doing he was building a record of the changes taking place in Yosemite over many years.  These photos were intended to parallel the work done with his lapse-time camera films with flowers, allowing the human eye to see the blossoming of a flower in just a few seconds instead of days.  Every season Pillsbury returned to the same places, continuing to build the frames of a short film showing Yosemite changing over a period of years. You will never see this because of the fire which destroyed his work in 1927.  You catch glimpses of this through the strikingly similar images of the same places we will show you.  
The real meaning of the Norsigian Negatives
The glass plates purchased by Norsigian are rejects for the most part.  If examined closely, they all share certain characteristics. (Angie put these in)   These characteristics kept them from being used by Pillsbury normally.