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  John C. Hemment

John Charles Hemment was born in Benwick, Cambridgeshire, England on January 28, 1862. His formal education included attending a local village school before going to college for three years in neighboring Peterborough, where later found work as a 'gofer' for a drapery retailer. Always ambitious, Mr. Hemment sought greater opportunities in London, where he served as an apprentice at a children's clothing wholesaler. Originally hired as a cutter, by age 16 he was learning design techniques while acting as personal assistant to one of the owners, which allowed him to travel throughout England. His natural athletic prowess (which included a record-setting 200-yard skating record) led to a lifelong interest in sports, and likely inspired his interest in photography.

In October of 1879, Mr. Hemment moved to the United States, where he quickly obtained employment in New York City as a cutter for a wholesale clothing warehouse. His interest in photography commenced five years later, when Mr. Hemment "took up photography… as a means to determine the real winner in all close athletic contests." With his first camera, a 5x7 Scovill Waterbury detective camera and a large aperture lens, he secured employment as a staff photographer with Leslie's Weekly. During his tenure, Mr. Hemment captured several sporting and outdoor events, which included the first aerial photographs taken from a hot-air balloon. His professional forte and personal passion became horseracing, and over the next two decades he experimented with manipulating flashlight and sunlight to achieve clear instantaneous photographic results that were miraculously free of intrusive flashes of light. Mr. Hemment discovered that a camera mounted on a tripod was less than ideal, and so he devised a hand-box that was subdivided into two compartments, fitted with a Prosch shutter and identical upper and lower lenses. The top lens served as a glass-reflecting finder that allowed the photographer to watch the action before releasing the shutter on the bottom lens.

Mr. Hemment's prowess as a horseracing photographer earned him the title of "official track photographer" at racetracks in Monmouth, Saratoga, and Sheepshead Bay, as well as at several sporting clubs in Brooklyn and Coney Island. He excelled in capturing dead heats within 1/1000th of a second with developing times ranging from 5 to 15 min. His understanding of horses' 'body language' such as leg positioning and stretches further enhanced his photographic accuracy. Mr. Hemment's restless spirit also occasionally led him away from the racetrack, extending from the North Pole to the jungles of Africa. He also accompanied Theodore Roosevelt's 'Rough Riders' to Cuba to document the Spanish-American War for Hearst Publications.

In the early 20th century, Mr. Hemment became official photographer to wealthy entrepreneur Paul Rainey. He is believed to have shot the first aerial wildlife footage of a flock of ducks at Rainey's Louisiana estate. He later accompanied Mr. Rainey on an expedition to Africa, where he filmed several tropical bird species and presented more than 150 specimens to the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1914. During World War I, Mr. Hemment traveled throughout England and France as a member of the Red Cross. Sixty-five-year-old John C. Hemment died in 1927, and although he never considered himself anything more than an amateur photographer, his advancements in the field of instantaneous sports photography have been lauded by professionals and historians alike. His voluminous collection of horseracing photographs are located in Lexington, Kentucky's Keeneland Library and further cement his legacy as the 'father of photo-finish photography.'

2010 Africa's Big Five and Other Wildlife Filmmakers by Jean Hartley (Kenya, Africa: Twaweza Communications Ltd.), pp. 22-23.

1898 Cannon and Camera by John C. Hemment (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company), pp. 267-268.

2010 The First Official Racetrack Photographer (URL:

1918 The Fourth Estate (New York, NY: Fourth Estate Publishing Co.), p. 15.

1899 Leslie's Weekly, Vol. LXXXVIII (New York, NY: Arkell Publishing Co.), p. 513.

1899 Leslie's Weekly, Vol. LXXXIX (New York, NY: Arkell Publishing Co.), pp. 185, 197, 200.

1898 McClure's Magazine, Vol. XI (New York, NY: S. S. McClure), p. 422.

1912 Moving Picture News, Vol. V (New York, NY: Cinematograph Publishing Company), p. 11.

1892 Outing, Vol. XIX (New York, NY: The Outing Company, Limited), pp. 404-409.

2020 Pferderennen, USA, 1907 (URL:

1891 The St. Louis and Canadian Photographer, Vol. XV (St. Louis, MO: Mrs. Fitzgibbon-Clark), pp. 394-396.

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2020-12-13 08:18:44

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