James Presley Ball was born in Franklin County, Virginia in 1825 (or 1826, according to some sources) to freeborn African Americans William and Susan Ball. Nothing appears to be known about his childhood or education except that he became a daguerreotype apprentice to another freeman of color, Boston photographer John B. Bailey. Mr. Ball opened his first photographic business in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1845. Within a year, the business failed, but the determined young entrepreneur returned to Virginia, where hen enjoyed some success. He was encouraged enough to try again in Cincinnati, and in 1847 opened "Ball's Great Daguerrean Gallery of the West" on 28 West 4th Street. The four rooms consisted of two operating rooms, a workshop were plates were prepared and images were enhanced, and a massive gallery measuring 40' long and 20' wide. Mr. Ball assembled an impressive crew that included his brother Thomas as manager, Alexander Thomas, who would become his brother-in-law after his marriage to Elizabeth Ball, and finisher Robert S. Duncanson, who would become an acclaimed landscape painter.
With his gallery success, Mr. Ball was able to get married (his wife Virginia gave birth to their first child James Presley Ball, Jr. in 1854) and to finance the cause dearest to his heart - abolitionism. He published a popular antislavery pamphlet in 1855, and emphasized the devastating consequences of slavery on a massive 2.400-square-yard panoramic canvas entitled, Mammoth Pictorial Tour of the United States Comprising Views of the African Slave Trade; of Northern and Southern Cities; of Cotton and Sugar Plantations; of the Mississippi, Ohio and Susquehanna Rivers, Niagara Falls & C. He received commissions to photograph such luminaries as fellow abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Ulysses S. Grant, operatic soprano Jenny Lind, author Charles Dickens, and Queen Victoria. Mr. Ball's flourishing business enabled him to open another Cincinnati studio, the Ball & Thomas Photographic Art Gallery.
Sadly, Mr. Ball's prosperity was halted by a tornado that destroyed his gallery in May 1860. Although the structure was rebuilt, and his association with Mr. Thomas continued into the 1870s, and later included James Jr. as a partner, the gallery never regained the success it had previously enjoyed. Mr. Ball's personal life also took a downturn when he was viciously attacked by his wife, who accused him of adultery. She was arrested and the couple divorced shortly thereafter. Hel married Fannie Cage in 1864. Mr. Ball and his son decided to join the growing trend by going West. They first moved their studio to Minneapolis, Minnesota in the 1870s, then to remote Helena, Montana in 1887, and finally in Seattle, WA, in 1900. Suffering from rheumatism, Mr. Ball and his family moved to the warmer climate of Honolulu, Hawaii in 1902. James Presley Ball Sr. died on May 4, 1904, leaving behind an inspiring legacy of African-American photographic art and social activism.
2000 Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press), p. 41.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 112.
1854 Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, Vol. VI, No. XIII (Boston: F. Gleason), p. 208.
2011 The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art (New York: Oxford University Press), p. 194.
2006 History of the Negro Race in America from 1619-1880, Vol. II (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing LLC), pp. 141-143.
2008 J. P. Ball, African American Photographer (URL: http://library.cincymuseum.org/ball/jpball-cincy.htm ).
1993 J. P. Ball: Daguerrean and Studio Photographer New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.
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