Frederick Arthur Webster was born in Michigan to Edwin and Ann (White) Webster on May 1, 1860. After receiving a public school education in Lapeer County, he apprenticed at his older brother Harry's photographic gallery while still in high school. While still working for his brother in Lapeer, he married a local girl named Lottie McCullagh in 1884. Six years' later, the couple moved to Greeley, Colorado, where they briefly operated their own business. From there, they moved to Laramie, Wyoming, where Mr. Webster managed a branch of his brother's photographic business.
Finally, in 1889, Mr. Webster and his wife arrived in Oakland, California, where he remained for the rest of his life. He opened his own studio at 1069 Broadway, where he quickly developed a reputation for his stylish cameras and quality lenses. His portrait specialty of babies and children was the result of taking combination photographs of children which were then mounted onto a card. These became highly sought keepsakes. Mr. Webster also specialized in carbon portraiture, which were noted for their artistry and permanent finish. Mr. Webster prided himself on his portraits' authentic hand-painted backgrounds, and had them prepared by regional artists in New York and Chicago. He also experimented with light and shadow in order to achieve the greatest dramatic effects for his portraits. Although Mr. Webster's successful studio employed several retouchers, including prominent female landscape and still-life painter Sabrina P. Lathorp, he often enjoyed retouching his own photographs whenever he could. He believed doing so enabled him to develop newer and more efficient processes that further distinguished his work.
Mr. Webster is credited with encouraging the professional photographic movement in California, where it was still regarded more as an oddity than an art form. He was instrumental in organizing the Photographers Association of California, which consisted of professionals in the Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. Its first convention was held at San Francisco's Mechanics' Pavilion in late October 1903, and inspired future statewide organizations including the present-day Professional Photographers of California. Mr. Webster's tireless efforts to promote photography as an artistic medium on the West Coast were frequently hampered by finances, which made it difficult to compete with the larger and well-established East Coast organizations. However, Northern California would eventually attract such 20th-century photographic pioneers as Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, among others. According to U.S. Census records, F. A. Webster died between 1930 and 1940 although the exact date is unknown.
1898 Alameda County: the Eden of the Pacific (Oakland: The Oakland Tribune), p. 220.
1892 The Bay of San Francisco, Vol. II (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company), pp. 646-647.
1918 The Photographic Journal of America, Vol. LV (Philadelphia: Edward L. Wilson Company, Inc.), pp. 247-252.
1903 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XL (New York: Edward L. Wilson),p. 563.
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