Discovering ‘Jack London, Photographer’

Byline: Ambrosia Brody

Discovering ‘Jack London, Photographer’

SANTA BARBARA — After 10 years of research and written drafts, Sue Hodson’s work on a book about Jack London was turned into an exhibition at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum — and it will open July 18 at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. The display tells the story of London, an author, journalist, photographer and boater who built a 40-foot ketch, Snark, and sailed to the South Pacific on a voyage that he hoped would take him around the world.

Hodson is the curator of literary manuscripts at the Huntington Library and co-author of the new book “Jack London, Photographer.”

The Log
: Tell us about the book.
Sue Hodson: “The book, “Jack London, Photographer,” is a compilation of about 200 of London’s photographs, accompanied by text, captions (usually London’s) and related quotations from his writings. The photographs in the book document the poor in the East End of the city of London in 1902, the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the South Pacific and South Seas in 1907-1908, the journey around Cape Horn in 1912 and the Mexican Revolution in 1914.”

Why Jack London?
“Jack London was a renaissance man — adventurer, sailor, argonaut, writer, rancher, socialist, journalist, war correspondent and photographer. Best known for such classic tales as “The Call of the Wild” and “The Sea Wolf,” he wrote an astonishing 50 books in his short life of just 40 years. He has left a body of exciting stories and tales, as well as nonfiction writings, and he has left a legacy of the life well and fully lived. As a writer and man of action, he still holds charisma for his fans, and he connects with his readers in an extraordinarily personal way. Add to all this the body of his stunning photographs, numbering nearly 16,000 images, and London is a figure who fascinates and inspires.”

Who was Jack London, for those unfamiliar with him and his work?     
“Jack London was a devoted boater and owned boats from his early years on. It is especially appropriate that the current exhibition of his photographs is mounted in several maritime museums. London would have loved this, and he would have enjoyed seeing the show in its first venue, on board the historic sailing ship Star of India in San Diego.”

When did you realize your passion for photography and archival research?            
“On the job at the Huntington, and then in grad school, I fell in love with literary manuscripts and with authors’ collections of papers. It is thrilling to be able to read, and to hold in one’s hand, an original, autograph manuscript written by an author you have studied. Reading corrected drafts enables one to follow the writer’s creative process, and reading original letters provides an unparalleled look at a person’s thoughts, relationships, daily life — every facet of that person’s life. Photographs offer us direct evidence of the visual record, enabling us to see historic events as they unfolded.”

How much research was involved in this project?
“Jeanne Reesman and I worked on the book for 10 years, outside my full-time library duties and Jeanne’s teaching and scholarly publishing. We examined all 12,000 prints in the Huntington’s London Collection twice, and we made several trips to Sonoma to look at the 4,000 negatives in the collection of the Department of Parks and Recreation. After making our selection of about 200 images, we researched London’s life and writings in relation to the images, and we researched the historic periods documented in the photos.”

What should people know about Jack London?           
“People should know that London was a self-educated man who read widely and deeply throughout his life. His intellectual curiosity and love of adventure never flagged and brought him great fulfillment as well as the raw material for his stories and novels. His profound empathy for common people, formed by his own early poverty, gave him the capacity to connect with people in a direct, personal way. Perhaps most importantly, people should know that his writings will richly reward their reading and bring them enjoyment and enlightenment.”

What did you enjoy most about writing the book?    

“We enjoyed every aspect of working on the book, especially the opportunity to work with London’s spectacular body of photographic work. We were struck again and again by the professional quality of his photographs. He was no casual tourist capturing snapshots, but a serious artist whose sensitive photographs are beautifully composed works of art and of photojournalism.”

The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum will host an exhibit opening, a lecture by Hodson and a book signing on July 18. The exhibit will feature many rare Jack London photographs, including 50 images from London’s cruise on Snark, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Russo-Japanese War, and more. The reception begins at 5:30 p.m. and the lecture follows at 7 p.m. The cost is $10 for the public; free to museum members. To register, visit sbmm.org or call (805) 962-8404, ext. 115.

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