Seneca Ray Stoddard was born to Julia Ray and Charles Stoddard in Wilton, New York on May 13, 1843. In his late teens, he took a job painting landscapes at Eaton and Gilbert Car Works in the town of Troy before moving to the picturesque village of Glens Falls, in the heart of the scenic Adirondack Mountains. He apprenticed with a local photographer, from whom Mr. Stoddard learned wet-plate techniques. He soon found a lucrative tourist market for his landscape stereographs and Adirondack albumen prints, which he sold along with his own carefully-crafted maps of popular destinations. His vast regional knowledge resulted in the volume, Adirondacks Illustrated, which was published and updated from 1874 until 1914.
When Mr. Stoddard opened his first studio, it was truly a family affair. His first wife, Augusta Potter Stoddard, was operations manager, and his brother-in-law Charles Oblinis served as his assistant. Several nearby hotels and railroads sought out the Stoddard studio to promote their businesses. Because his photographic business encompassed everything from cabinet cards to panoramic views, Mr. Stoddard's many cameras ranged in size from 5 x 8” to 16 x 20”. He used his painting background to emphasize the lush mountain landscape through his masterful manipulations of lighting, form, and framing. Mr. Stoddard also artfully positioned people so that they would enhance the landscape rather than detract from it. Several nineteenth-century historians have defined Mr. Stoddard's style as luminism, which celebrated the dominance of nature over the individual. He was equally adept at night photography, as demonstrated by his nocturnal image of the Statue of Liberty (exhibited at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876), which required the use of highly combustible magnesium flash powder. Mr. Stoddard was not immune to occupational injuries resulting from this explosive chemical, once recalling that despite an explosion that singed his hands, beard, and hair, he nevertheless saved his plate, and added humorously that he "furnished an interesting item for the newspapers the next day." In an 1877 article in the Philadelphia Photographer, Mr. Stoddard expressed his preference for E & H. T. Anthony's "Z Success" compact camera for his stereographs that could be easily fitted with four pairs of long-focus lenses, ranging anywhere from 2-1/2 to 10 inches. He used 10” Morrison lenses to capture single views.
By the 1880s, Mr. Stoddard had converted to the less labor-intensive dry plate technique, but continued to use magnetic flash powder for outdoor photography, which allowed him to photograph cave bats in an article for The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac. Accompanied by a massive panoramic camera to produce 20 x 49-1/2" negatives, Mr. Stoddard photographed the West Coast, and then traveled to Alaska, where he produced lantern slides for future lectures. The largest camera of its time had initially been a colossal failure, but was successfully tweaked to satisfy the photographer's lofty expectations. In 1895, he began a two-year tenure as a Mediterranean cruise ship photographer, which included critically acclaimed luminist photographs of Russia. Mr. Stoddard spent his later years selling cameras, testing various types of printing papers, experimenting with soft focus – a precursor of the twentieth-century Photo-Secession movement – and becoming an ardent environmentalist. Two years after his first wife's death, Mr. Stoddard married Emily Doty in 1908, with whom he lived comfortably in Glens Falls until his death on May 3, 1917, ten days before his 74th birthday. More than 3,000 of S. R. Stoddard's photographs are exhibited as part of Glens Falls' Chapman Historical Museum's Seneca Ray Stoddard Collection.
1889 The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times (New York: The Scovill & Adams Company), pp. 53-57.
2017 Collections at the Chapman Historical Museum (URL: http://chapmanmuseum.org/collections/stoddard).
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1349-1351.
2017 Liberty Enlightening the World (URL: http://adirondack.pastperfectonline.com/photo/3010C10B-C165-490C-8402-861448644298).
1889 The Photographic Times and American Photographer, Vol. XIX (New York: The Photographic Times Publishing Association), p. 559.
1999 Seneca Ray Stoddard by Jeffrey Horrell (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, pp. 45, 87.
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