James Adolphus “Dolph” Pugh was the eighth of twelve children born to Jesse and Nancy Reece Pugh in Randolph County, North Carolina on July 3, 1833. While in his late teens, he moved to Macon, Georgia, where he supported himself as a factory worker while learning the daguerreotype trade from Richard L. Wood, Macon’s only photographer. By late 1857, he and his brother David opened the J. A. Pugh & Bro studio, in what became known as the Triangular Block, the business hub of downtown Macon. According to one pre-Civil War advertisement, “Our Prices now for all styles of Pictures, will be to suit the Times. Persons enlisting to Fight the Battles of our Country, will be accommodated with FINE Likenesses to leave with their friends at HALF OUR USUAL PRICES!”
A shameless self-promotor, Mr. Pugh made sure to mention any awards or achievements in his advertising, and packaged his ‘original Stereoscopic Views of Georgia Scenes’ as the first of their kind. Whether or not he actually introduced stereographic images (images that are presented side-by-side and when seen through a viewer appear three-dimensional) to Georgians is a matter of conjecture. He paused his publicity campaign long enough to enlist, along with his brother, in the 5th infantry State Guards Confederate unit in 1861. Taking his cameras and equipment with him, he constructed a makeshift studio at Cape Oglethorpe, where he promised to capture images of his fellow volunteer soldiers “on the spot.” He produced several authentic prints of the Camp, it’s inhabitants, and their military gear, which were then sold by his studio as CDVs (cartes-de-visite).
After the war, Mr. Pugh returned to his ‘Pugh & Bro’ Triangular Block facility and shortly thereafter opened an Americus location, which is where David Pugh lived and worked for the remainder of his life. The brothers were briefly joined by a third sibling, Archimedes, who left the business in 1870. Mr. Pugh enjoyed continued success in Macon with various improvements that included superior light shading with an extension camera, movable glasses to manipulate reflection for stylized portraits, and experimented with new chemicals to touch up prints. Mr. Pugh also patented a camera tube and lens, which according to his advertising, received a prestigious award at the Paris Exhibition. He also treated his prints with spring water to remove any leftover chemicals that caused them to prematurely fade.
Unfortunately, like many of Mr. Pugh’s contemporaries, the inhalation of noxious fumes associated with photographic processing, took a deadly toll on his health. James A. Pugh died from “congestion of the brain and lungs” at the age of 63 on January 22, 1887. After his death, his business property was valued at between $20,000 and $30,000, which was considered a vast fortune at the time. His daguerreotypes are now regarded as prized collectables, and some of his work can be found in the archives at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
2008 The Georgia Historical Quarterly, vol. XCII (Savannah, GA: Georgia Historical Society), pp. 37-64.
2019 Images from the 19th Century (URL: https://www.georgiacracker.net/History/Photography/Images-from-the-19th-Century/i-dqcJvZL).
2019 J. A. Pugh Card (copyright by Richard D. Sheaff; image used with owner permission) (URL: http://www.sheaff-ephemera.com/list/backmarks_album/j-a-pugh.html).
2016 James Adolphus “'Dolph'” Pugh (URL: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/166959222/james-adolphus-pugh).
1868 Leaves of a Wanderer by J. A. Pugh (Macon, GA: J. W. Burke & Co.)
1869 Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, GA: Joseph Clisby), p. 1.
1887 The Photographic Times, Vol. XVII (New York, NY: Scovill Manufacturing Company, Publishers), p. 60.
2019 Pugh Photographer Macon GA Man Striped Vest Odd Hat CDV (URL: https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/pugh-photographer-macon-ga-man-57063467).
2017 Silent Witness: The Civil War through Photography and its Photographers by Ron Field (Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing), p. 88.
2017 Three Photographers and the Military, 1861 (URL: https://georgia-photographers.com/2017/11/11/3photographersandthemilitary-1861).
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