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  Peter Britt, Photographer

Peter Britt was born into a farming family in Obstalden, Glarus, Switzerland on March 12, 1819. A trained artist, Peter discontinued his training in Munich, Germany to accompany his widowed father Kaspar to America in 1844. Father and son settled in the predominantly Swiss community of Highland, Illinois. While visiting St. Louis, the junior Britt received daguerreotype instruction from local photographer John H. Fitzgibbon. He returned to Highland and opened his own studio with equipment he had purchased from Mr. Fitzgibbon.

After making only a meager living for the next few years, Mr. Britt sold his studio in early 1852 and joined three Swiss transplants for a rigorous journey to the Oregon Territory. Weighted down by 300 pounds of daguerreotype equipment, Mr. Britt finally arrived in the gold mining town of Jacksonville, Oregon in November of that year. With his favorite quarter-plate camera fitted with a Vogtlander lens, Mr. Britt quickly established himself as the most prosperous photographer in southern Oregon. However, he still needed supplemental income, and when his mining efforts proved futile, he entered into the more lucrative freight business. However, while on business in San Francisco, Mr. Britt decided to concentrate once again on photography, and returned to Oregon to open the “P. Britt’s Photograph and Daguerreotype Room” in 1856. His portraits of local residents (both prominent and ordinary) won him considerable critical praise. Ever the entrepreneur, he also became a successful pear farmer and established himself as the first wine merchant in the region.

Sadly, Mr. Britt’s stately mansion was destroyed by fire in 1860, the same year he became reacquainted with former Highland resident and recent widow Amalia Grob. The couple married on August 11, 1863, and would later add a son and a daughter to their family. His gallery expanded to include stereographs, large format (11x14”) tintypes, and cabinet photographs. By the late 1860s, Mr. Britt became a much-traveled field photographer, accompanied by his covered wagon mobile studio, which humorously dubbed as “The Pain.” After the death of his wife in 1871, he took his children along on his photographic assignments, which led them to Crater Lake in the summer of 1874. Equipped with a darkroom tent, two cameras, and 28 8x10 glass plates, the plates needed to be quickly coated to take exposures within a 20-second time frame. After 30 minutes, Mr. Britt developed what are believed to be the first photographs of Crater Lake. Although an accomplished portrait photographer, it is his landscape photographs for which he is best remembered.


By 1878, Emil Britt was working in his father’s studio, and by age 20, he was an apprentice at the esteemed Bradley and Rulofson studio in San Francisco. Upon completing his training, he returned to his father’s employ, and joined the growing number of dry plate photographers. With his son assuming most of the portrait duties, the senior Britt focused on photographic coloring and retouching. His later years were spent as a gentleman farmer who painted Swiss landscapes in his leisure time. After a bout of pneumonia, 86-year-old Peter Britt died at his Oregon home on October 3, 1905. Mr. Britt’s extensive collections of photographs are presently housed at, among other locations, the Jacksonville (Oregon) Historical Society Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, the University of Oregon Library, the Museum of New Mexico, and the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. The Peter Britt Photograph Collection at Southern Oregon University’s digital archives contain more than 2,067 predominantly landscape prints.




Ref:
2019 Britt Photographs (URL: https://hanlib.sou.edu/speccoll/britt.html).

2014 Jacksonville by Margaret LaPlante (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing).

2018 Jacksonville Review (URL: http://jacksonvillereview.com/search-peter-britts-original-valley-view-vineyard-mj-daspit).

2014 Meaningful Places by Rachel McLean Sailor (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press), pp. 55-75.

2018 Peter Britt, Frontier Photographer (URL: https://oregonhistoryproject.org/articles/historical-records/peter-britt-frontier-photographer/#.Xa3J-2YpCUk).

2019 Peter Britt – “Photographer, Visionary, Entrepreneur” – by Carolyn Kingsnorth (URL: http://jacksonvillereview.com/peter-britt-photographer-visionary-entrepreneur-by-carolyn-kingsnorth).

2000 Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865 by Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), pp. 122-124.


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