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Frederick I. Monsen

Frederick Inman Monsen was born in Bergen, Norway on July 8, 1865. After being trained as a draftsman and artist, he immigrated to the United States with his family in the late 1870s. Mr. Monsen assisted his father and photography teacher in photographing the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. He spent several years as an itinerant photojournalist, and also worked as a photographer for the Geological Survey, where not only took pictures but also conducted ethnographic experiments of the Rocky Mountains. He quickly became recognized as a geological expert in the American Southwest, and his photography reflected his local knowledge. He was offered several assignments by Western photographic pioneer William Henry Jackson, which further cemented his reputation in the region.

During the 1880s, he joined the Geological Survey at the U.S. and Mexican border, and accompanied Generals George Crook and Nelson Miles on their Apache expedition that concluded with the successful capture of Geronimo in 1886. Mr. Monsen became a student of Native American culture, which was reflected in his tribal photographs. In 1891, he was assigned to photograph Death Valley, and five years' later, his Native American expertise was sought by the Yosemite Park Survey's study of Southwestern Indian country. Over a period of eighteen years, Mr. Monsen's photographic journey took him throughout the southwestern United States, the California mountains, and Mexico. He became the first professional photographer to record the daily lives of the Hopi and Navajo. Kodak was Mr. Monsen's camera of choice, and he traveled with three small Kodaks for their ease of portability. They could be easily strapped to his belt, which enabled him to snap candid shots of tribal life. He remembered all too well the unnatural poses necessitated by the dry plate process, but the Kodak enabled Mr. Monsen to capture natural expressions because his subjects were often blissfully unaware they were being photographed.


After settling in California, Mr. Monsen established a studio and museum in San Francisco. He spent several years as a sought-after lecture. Eventually, he amassed a photographic collection that included more than 10,000 plates, most of which were sadly lost in the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. In 1909, the Eastman Kodak Company published a collection of Mr. Monsen's photographs entitled With a Kodak in the Land of the Navajo. Sixty-four-year-old Frederick I. Monsen died from pneumonia in Pasadena, California on November 10, 1929. After seeing an exhibit of his photographs, one observer described it as "the most complete ethnographic series of pictures of Indian life and manners of Southwestern United States." The mounted enlargements of Mr. Monsen's remaining collection of photographs are now housed in San Marino, California's Huntington Library and in the Museum of the University of Oslo, Norway.




Ref:
1978 Canyon De Chelly: Its People and Rock Art (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press), p. 136.

1913 Herringshaw's American Blue-Book of Biography (Washington, DC: American Publishers Association), p. 452.

1990 Shadows on Glass: The Indian Photographs of Ben Wittick (Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Rowman & Littlefield), pp. 205-206.

1978 The Valiant Knights of Daguerre (Berkeley: University of California Press), pp. 293-.298.


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