The photos in
our lives capture moments—large and small—that bring back memories.
Photography made its first big impression in America during the Civil War
with the heart-rending and historic pictures taken by Mathew Brady.
To capture these images, Brady needed heavy camera equipment, a darkroom
tent equipped with chemicals to coat and develop his glass plates; and he
had to shoot and develop the plates within 15 minutes—before the wet
emulsion dried. Photographs not only recorded daily life, but soon took on
political power. Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln commented on Brady’s
portrait: “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me President of the United
Only trained professionals had the skill and patience to practice
photography in these early days. A photographer had to be a tinkerer,
chemist, psychologist, and have a mountain of patience to deal with this
strange new craft. Fortunately a young American inventor, George Eastman,
wanted to make photography simple enough that anyone could take a picture
and preserve family memories.
By 1890, Eastman had developed roll film and a simple light-weight camera
that anyone could use, and the photographic revolution began. Eastman coined
the term “Kodak” for his products (he liked the simple sound), and soon
everyone was taking pictures.
About this time, a young Saugatuck lad, Herman Simonson, had taken a strong
interest in photography. Herman’s parents were native Norwegians who had
come to America for a better life. Herman must have inherited their strong
work ethic, for after graduating from the Illinois School of Photography in
1905, he returned to Saugatuck and opened a photo studio on Culver Street.
His business boomed enough to open three branches—two in Saugatuck and one
in Glenn. Part of Herman’s entourage were several small donkeys which
customers could ride for their portraits.
In addition to these gag shots and portraits, Simonson left a great
photographic heritage of life in Saugatuck from 1900 to the 1940’s. Many of
these valuable glass and film negatives survive in the collection of R.J.
and Diane Peterson.
We are fortunate that men of vision like Herman Simonson lived here and
captured the way it was in another time and day. by Rob Carey