Sunday, January 15, 2012
Pioneering photojournalist who today is remembered only as a best-selling writer of fiction (and as a rich socialist)
Jack London's fame now rests mainly on his fiction. "Call of the Wild" has never gone out of print. But in his time he was also known not only for his colorful lifestyle, but for his photojournalism. He was also an accomplished photographer, and his photos appeared with his stories in newspapers all over the world. This is from "The People of the Abyss," a pioneering book of photojournalism published in 1903 about the London poor. London became rich from his writing and was also a socialist, but he was no limousine liberal -- he had been poor in his youth, and he had an easy personal rapport with the poor, a visceral human sympathy, that other photographic chroniclers lof the time acked. He lived among the poor, spent nights walking the city streets with them and spent a night in a workhouse. These men are sleeping in a park early in the morning after walking all night so as not to be arrested for vagrancy. London left thousands of prints and negatives, and some of the best are collected in Jack London, Photographer.
One of the biggest stories covered by Jack London the photojournalist was right in his own backyard. His photos of the San Francisco earthquake were striking compositions by someone who was photographing familiar scenes rendered surreal and chaotic by the tragedy. Many were reprinted all over the world.
Yet today, few remember London's work as a photographer. His prints are stored in the Huntington Library, and his negatives are stored by the California State Parks system in the Sonoma Barracks. Authors Jeanne Campbell Reesman, Sara S. Hodson and Philip Adam have performed a real service by rescuing some of London's photographs from the dustbin of history and making them accesible to the public.