A new book edited by Richard Timberlake and Philip Terrie, J.S. Wooley: Adirondack Photographer (Syracuse University Press, 2018) tells the story of Jesse Sumner Wooley, a gifted and prolific Adirondack photographer at the turn of the twentieth century.
In 1880, Jesse Sumner Wooley, an energetic and entrepreneurial thirteen-year-old farm boy from Saratoga County, took a job as an errand boy for a pair of town photographers. The summer job led to a career that would define Wooley’s life. From that early start, he went on to become a prominent businessman and inventive photographer in Upstate New York.
This volume tells the story of Wooley’s rise from his impoverished rural roots to a position of success and prosperity as an artist who illuminated twentieth-century bourgeois American culture through his photography.
Including more than one hundred color and duotone photographs from his corpus, including a gallery of images from Matt Finley’s private collection, the book reveals the range of Wooley’s work: Adirondack panoramas, architectural studies, travel shows depicting the American west and Europe, and documentary photographs of contemporary events.
Wooley’s career is situated within the context of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century town photography, a field dominated by male commercial photographers who captured the day-to-day events of rural and town life. Like many of these professional photographers, Wooley embraced innovations in cameras, producing photo postcards and panoramic photography to satisfy the growing demand for images as souvenirs. J. S. Wooley showcases the beauty of the Adirondack region as Wooley experienced it, the importance of town photographers, and the emergence of photography as a powerful medium to expose the American landscape.
Richard Timberlake is owner and operator of Timberlake Photos in Saratoga Springs, NY. Philip Terrie is professor emeritus of American culture studies and environmental studies at Bowling Green State University. He is the author of Contested Terrain: A New History of Nature and People in the Adirondacks and an occasional contributor to Adirondack Almanack.
A version of this article first appeared on the Adirondack Almanack.