Isaiah (also known as Isaac) West Taber was born to Freeman and Louise Mendell Taber in New Bedford, Massachusetts on August 17, 1830. At age 15, he completed public school, and joined his uncle as a crewman on the whaling ship Adeline Gibbs. After some maritime adventure in the North Pacific, young Mr. Taber again set sail, this time for San Francisco, aboard the Friendship. However, once in California, Mr. Taber determined trading was more profitable than goldmining, and so he formed a partnership with several like-minded businessmen. For a time, he transported weapons in exchange for hogs, which he took to San Francisco to sell for pork.
In 1852, Mr. Taber tried his hand at ranching, settling in Northern California, where in his spare time he sketched his scenic surroundings. Within two years, he was back in New Bedford, and when the dentistry profession proved too dull for his liking, he decided to pursue a career in photography, taking lessons in ambrotype preparation at a local studio. In 1854, shortly after marrying Mary F. R. Howland - sister of photographer Benjamin Howland - Mr. Taber opened his own daguerreotype gallery. Eight years later, he and his brother Freeman Augustus opened Taber Brothers Photographic Studio in Syracuse, New York, on East Genesee Street. They also operated a studio in Niagara Falls for a few years before parting company, selling off their Syracuse studio to George K. Knapp and Company.
When Mr. Taber received an offer to work for the San Francisco-based Bradley & Rulofson (Henry William Bradley and William Herman Rulofson) studio, he returned permanently to the West Coast. Within a few years, he bought out a local competitor, Nahl Brothers' Art and Photographic Gallery, at 12 Montgomery Street, but retained co-owner Hugo Nahl as studio colorist and retoucher. Divorced from his first wife, Mr. Taber married Boston-born Annie Slocum in 1875. He closed that studio after a few years, and worked briefly for George Daniels Morse before opening another gallery at 22 Montgomery Street. Working closely with darkroom assistant Thomas Boyd, Mr. Taber introduced 4x7" photographs that scaled full-size portraits. They also secured patents for a wire cloth background and a "Bonanza Plate-Holder." A ruthless businessman, Mr. Taber capitalized on photographer Carleton Watkins' financial misfortunes by purchasing his studio and entire inventory after their foreclosure.
By the late 1870s, I. W. Taber and Company became the most successful West Coast photographic entity, opening several elegant 'parlors' throughout San Francisco's business district. He succeeded at taking photographs of young children with the one-second exposures he had perfected. He also developed unique special effects and utilized a music box to put his young sitters at ease. A shameless self-promoter, Mr. Taber published his Photographic Album of Principal Business Houses, Residences, and Persons in 1880. While cruising the Hawaiian Islands, he took several photographs of King David Kalakaua, and focused the next decade on fingerprint printing and enlargement and dry plate manufacturing. By the twentieth century, Mr. Taber had several successful San Francisco studios and a London gallery. In 1906, while finalizing to move his studio, the San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed his buildings and his extensive inventory of more than 80 tons of negatives. Afterwards, he assisted with the city's recovery efforts, but officially retired from the photographic profession. Eighty-one-year-old Isaiah West Turner died of heart failure on February 22, 1912. Prints of Mr. Taber's scenic photographs and cabinet cards can be found at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and as part of the University of California at Berkeley's (Bancroft Library) online archive.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 1373.
2017 “A Jolly Good Fellow” Poses for His Portrait in San Francisco, California (Photograph by Taber) (URL: https://cabinetcardgallery.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/a-jolly-good-fellow-poses-for-his-portrait-in-san-francisco-california-photograph-by-taber).
2017 King David Kalakaua (1836-1891) (URL: https://art.famsf.org/isaiah-west-taber/king-david-kalakaua-1836-1891-364691).
2007 Mount Shasta by Darla Greb Mazariegos (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing), p. 42.
2000 Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865 by Peter E. Palmquist, Thomas R. Kailbourn (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), pp. 538-540.
2017 Portrait of Isaiah West Taber. Unidentified Photographer (URL: https://calisphere.org/item/ark:/13030/tf629010n8).
2017 Upper Yosemite Falls, 1502 feet - (instantaneous) (URL: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/44538/iw-taber-upper-yosemite-falls-1502-feet-instantaneous-american-negative-about-1872-print-about-1882).
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