Posts Tagged ‘photo history’

Portrait of a woman – Lucy Parsons

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

I’ve just finished reading the final instalment of a series of five articles by Colleen Thornton on Paul Grottkau and Lucy Parsons published as a guest post on A D Coleman’s Photocritic International. It was a story which began by Thornton buying on E-bay a rather fine cabinet-card portrait of an unidentified African American woman, made by a hitherto unknown photographer whose name and Chicago address were below the picture.

Although Paul Grottkau was not well-known as a photographer, he had been prominent in socialist circles both in his native Germany and, after escaping to the USA in 1877 following political arrests and persecution, in Chicago where he settled, quickly becoming editor of the German language workers’ newspaper there.

Thornton goes briefly into considerable detail about his activities there, and in particular to the Haymarket Bombing in May 1886 and the arrests and execution of leading anarchists who were Grottkau’s colleagues, and were clearly unconnected with the bomb. Grottkau had by the time of the bombing moved to Milwaukee, where he had started another German language workers newspaper and become a leader in a number of strikes, including the large strike at the Milwaukee Iron Company‚Äôs rolling mill in Bay View. The National Guard fired on the 12,000 strikers and their supporters in ‘The Bay View Massacre’, and Grottkau was arrested as he tried to calm the situation by speaking to them in German. The New York Times reported Mrs. Albert R. Parsons as being in the court when he was sentenced to a year in jail (he only served 6 weeks.) Her husband, Albert Parsons was one of The ‘Haymarket Martyrs’, then awaiting execution, and hanged in November 1887. The following year Grottkau returned to Chicago to edit the newspaper again and opened a photo studio. Two years later he moved away with his family, briefly setting up studios in Milwaukee and Detroit before settling in San Francisco in 1891. There he may have worked in the studio of Joseph Holler, as well as continuing his political activities as a Social Democrat. He contracted pneumonia after returning to work for them in Milwaukee in 1898; 10,000 people attended his funeral and his obituary was published by the New York Times. But although his life-long work as an “anarchist/socialist writer, editor, labor organizer, and political activist” is well-known and documented, nothing at the time mentioned that he made a living and supported his family as a studio photographer, and very little is known about his photographic work.

Thornton was led by her research to Lucy Parsons and by comparing with the few known pictures of her, was able to establish to her satisfaction that the picture she had bought was of Lucy Parsons. Without access to the original it is difficult to fully assess the evidence, and in particular that of some fairly extensive and skilled retouching by Grottkau that Thornton discusses. She certainly makes a good case, but I am left with just a scintilla of suspicion; I’m convinced but not entirely so. But of course her research about both Grottkayu and Parsons still stands even in the unlikely event that Thornton was wrong about the photograph which prompted it.


I have a particular interest in this story as I have photographed Lucy Parsons many times in different locations, or rather her image on a banner produced by UK anarchist group Class War. What I call their ‘Lucy Parsons‘ banner has on it “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live” attributed to ‘Lucy Parsons (1853-1942)’. I first photographed it in July 2014 at one of their many protests against one of London’s new apartment blocks providing separate ‘poor doors’ for those living the the social housing from those in the larger private part of the building. I’ve since learnt rather more about her life and politics, but not before about some of the aspects of her life covered in this series of article.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Luminous Lint

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

One of the messages that arrived recently in my inbox was from Alan Griffiths of Luminous Lint, a perhaps strangely named web site which has a great deal of information on the history of photography and is certainly the best site of its type.

For those with time on their hands due to self-isolation over COVID-19, and particularly for students whose colleges have close down, Alan has very generously made this subscription site free for the next month or so – and will review the situation then.

Take a look, and if you find the site interesting then please consider taking out a subscription if you can afford it. Sites such as LL take a great deal of work and it is only the income from subscriptions that make it possible. Here are the details of the offer from his e-mail :

While we all go through the turmoil of COVID-19 we each have to do what we can.

It is important for all students to have access to high quality materials on photohistory as universities, schools and libraries around the world close down so I’ve opened up Luminous-Lint.

You can login to www.luminous-lint.com for free with the email address spring@lumlint.com and the password “spring” all in lowercase. You can login here.

This will be available until 18 April 2020 and then I will take another look at the situation.

I would ask the following of you:

1. If you see any errors or have something to add let me know. I’m always at alan@luminous-lint.com

2. Subscribe if you can afford it as it allows me to provide services to those who can’t.

Other than that – have an interesting time exploring and I wish you, your family and friends all the best,


My own sites, including My London Diary, London Photos, Hull Photos, The River Lea and London’s Industrial Heritage (see below) and a few other smaller sites you can find links to on this site remain free all the time.

I’m able to provide them without charge thanks to a relatively small pension from some years of teaching and a largely abstemious lifestyle :-) as well as the occasional sale of prints or images for editorial use, but small Paypal donations, as the text I often append to these posts suggest, are always welcome. And you can also help by sharing these posts or other work on my sites on social media.

As well as those web sites, you can also find over a thousand rather higher resolution versions of my images on my Flickr account – and I hope soon to add a few thousand more. I’m happy to share these images – and for you to share them with your friends – but they are all copyright and a licence is required for any commercial or editorial use.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.