Henry C. Norman was born in Newnan, Georgia on October 22, 1950. When he was 15, his father Joshua Norman died, and the family left Georgia for Louisville, Kentucky. Five years later, the 20-year-old boarded a steamboat to Mississippi, disembarking at a region known as Natchez Under-the-Hill. For an ambitious young man, Natchez was an attractive destination. One of the few cities left virtually untainted by the Civil War, Natchez's streets were lined with antebellum mansions and the town was enjoying a thriving postwar economy. There was also a growing artist community, and brothers Marsh and Henry D. Gurney operated a successful local daguerreotype business downtown. After Marsh Gurney succumbed to yellow fever, his brother was in desperate need of another partner. Mr. Norman was clearly in the right place at the right time. He became an operator at the Gurney studio, and cultivated a talent for photography while also mastering various darkroom processes. In 1874, he married Natchez native Clara Field, and together they would have three sons and a daughter. All of the Norman sons became photographers, but only Earl, the youngest, stayed in Natchez, eventually teaming with his father.
In 1876, Henry D. Gurney either quit or retired, leaving his equipment and negatives to his young protégé. Mr. Norman promptly opened a studio at 111 Main Street, above Donaldson's Book Store. With his wife Clara assisting him, the Norman Studio quickly established itself as the premier regional portrait gallery. For the next 30 years, locals regardless of color or socioeconomic status would get their portraits made by Mr. Norman. He also became Natchez's official documentarian, chronicling all significant town events, including weddings, parades, and natural disasters. When President William Howard Taft was visiting Natchez, he, too, sat for a portrait. Mr. Norman eventually spent more time out of his studio than in it, photographing daily street scenes as well as life along the Mississippi River. His portraits collectively provide an insightful historical record of the period. Mr. Norman's personality was reflected in his discerning portraiture, which one biographer summed up as "his artist's eye, humanist's vision, and avant-coureur spirit." Determined to make the finest pictures possible, Mr. Norman climbed atop a church steeple to photograph St. Mary's Cathedral, a dangerous task made more challenging by a heavy camera and tripod. Ultimately, his outdoor camera of choice was the Kodak Century camera, later used with equal precision by his son Earl.
Mr. Norman continued working as a photographer into the twentieth century, and apparently operated more than one studio. The Natchez City Directory of 1912 lists his business address as 519 1/2 Main Street. Sixty-two-year-old Henry C. Norman died in his adopted hometown of Natchez on July 3, 1913. Earl Norman continued operating the family studio until his death in 1951. The Norman photographic legacy is currently painstakingly preserved by Thomas and Joan Gandy, whose collection of 500 images comprises the “Natchez in Historic Photographs,” a permanent exhibit housed in Natchez’s Stratton Chapel.
2013 A Century of Natchez History in Pictures by James Fox-Smith (URL: http://countryroadsmagazine.com/art-and-culture/history/21-a-century-of-natchez-history-in-pictures-1850-1950).
2010 Henry C. Norman, Sr. (URL: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=53250642).
2010 Lost Mansions of Mississippi: Vol. II by Mary Carol Miller (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi), p. 38.
1987 The Mississippi Steamboat Era in Historic Photographs by Joan W. Gandy and Thomas H. Gandy (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. v.
1999 Natchez: City Streets Revisited by Joan W. Gandy and Thomas H. Gandy (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing), pp. 10, 13, 15, 25-26, 52.
1978 Norman's Natchez: An Early Photographer and His Town by Joan W. Gandy and Thomas H. Gandy (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi), p. 21.
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