"The Forest Photographer" John D. Cress was born on August 12, 1864 near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His father was a surgeon in the Union army. In his early years John roamed the battlefields and collected bullets and broken muskets to sell as scrap. His father opened a pharmacy. Economic competition from the patent-medicine counter in general stores turned the doctor to supply ink to schools for extra income, which was made from elderberries that John would help pick.
In 1877, at age thirteen John Cress's first real job was to sweep lint from beneath the spinning machines in a cotton factory in Woodbury, Maryland, working ten hour days - six days a week. His father purchased a small printing press and put his son to work printing labels for the drug store. John expanded the trade into handbills, stationary and calling cards, which he sold for ten cents a dozen. This experience led him to find work later as a printer and he found himself working for the weekly chief in upper Sandusky, Ohio. One day a visiting news corespondent showed him photographs made of James G. Blaine at the railroad station. Cress identified himself in the crowd and was so impressed that he purchased the 4 x 5 camera from the visitor with the condition the he be taught how to use it. At that time dry plates had just been invented and he quickly learned the basics of photography. With this new found skill, Cress formed a partnership with a preacher who owned a horse and wagon and the two drove all over the country making photos of farmhouses and families. The photos were developed by a town studio until John taught his sister how to develop and print them.
Cress moved to Seattle in the spring of 1912, where he worked as a local photographer who specialized in photographing the lumber industry for advertising and magazines articles. By this time Johns skill had increased significantly and his love of the forest drove him to capture full length imagery of Seattle's largest trees. His average picture of these giant tress, reaching sometime over two hundred and fifty feet high, were captured on albumen pager that averaged several feet in length. The pictures were hung in lumber supply houses as promotion of the logging industry. The beauty of the forest and nature attracted other photographers like Darius Kinsey. Cress's work can be found in the library of congress, university of Washington, and several museums as one of the photographic pioneers of the Northwest.
John D. Cress died in December 1938, in Seattle, Washington.
1957 Seattle Pioneer Press Newspaper, article by Lucille McDonald
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540 USA
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