Feb. 26, 2007
BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Noted Black Photographer James Presley Ball Recognized in Greenbrier Historical Society Archives
By Stephanie Ferrell Stover
|portrait of a lady, Cincinnati, OH 1865
Ball was born in 1825 in the Virginias and spent his early years in Ohio, learning the art of daguerreotype from black Boston photographer John B. Bailey. Daguerreotypes were considered the first popular form of photography, introduced by Frenchman Louis Daguerre.
"Daguerre used silver-plated copper sensitized by iodine vapors,"Martha Davidson wrote in her spring 2007 story, "Secure the Shadow Ere the Substance Fades" in American Legacy, a magazine of African-American history and culture. "When the plate was exposed to sunlight, developed with mercury vapors, rinsed with other chemicals, and toned with gold chloride, the image was fixed directly on it, without an intermediary negative."
Within a few months after the art of daguerreotypy was introduced, the practice became popular. Since the technique was not patented, it was used consistently to the point that long exposure times of 20 minutes were decreased to less than one minute.
|back of photo, James Presley Ball
In 1846, Ball returned to the Virginias and rented a studio near the state capitol of Richmond and started climbing the ladder to success.
Title 30, Chapter 107, of the 1849 Code of Virginia, headed "Free Negroes," was found among records in the basement of the Greenbrier County Courthouse and were ultimately turned over to the Greenbrier Historical Society.
"Every free negro shall, every five years, be registered and numbered in a book to be kept by the clerk of the court of the county or corporation where such free negro resides, which register shall specify his name, age, colour and stature, with any apparent mark or scar on his face, head or hands, by what instrument he was emancipated, and when and where it was recorded, or that he was born free, and in what county or place," the document said.
Also found was Ball's registry in Greenbrier County Court documents, dated December 27, 1847.
"Be it rembered [remembered] that on this day, James Presly Ball had registered in this office his certificate of Freedom in this month and figures following to me: State of Va [Virginia], Frederick County. Be it remembered that on this 13th day of December 1847 personally appears William Joliffe before me this surrender a Justice of the Peace for said county made oath that he is acquainted with James Presly Ball a free man of color who is now about 22 years of age and that he is the son of William and Susan Ball, like persons of color, and that the said James Presly Ball was born free in the county and state aforesaid. Given under my hand and seal this 13th day of December in the year 1847."
In 1847, Ball returned to Ohio as a traveling daguerreotypist. In 1849, Ball settled in Cincinnati and hired his brother, Thomas, as an operator in his studio. In 1852, the Balls and brother-in-law Alexander Thomas became partners and the Ball and Thomas Gallery was opened to the public.
The year 1855 introduced a lot of firsts for Ball. He published his first pamphlet addressing the horrors of slavery from capture in Africa through the Middle Passage, which ended in bondage. In addition, Ball's s panoramic exhibition of those experiencing slavery was launched and his Daguerreotypes were displayed at the Ohio State Fair, and on June 23, he held at exhibit at the Ohio Mechanics Annual Exhibition.
Tragedy struck for Ball in May 1860 when a tornado destroyed the Ball and Thomas Photographic Art Gallery. But the community pitched in and helped to rebuild it. In or around 1870, Ball dissolved his partnership with Thomas and moved to Minneapolis to open a new studio.
In 1887, Ball was named as the official photographer of the 25th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation held in Minneapolis. Then, in October of the same year, Ball relocated to Helena, Montana, where, during the years of 1887 to 1894, Ball photographed hundreds of people in the white, black and Chinese communities.
In 1890, Ball moved to Seattle and opened a new studio under the name of Globe Photo Studio and operated it until his death in 1904. He was 79 years old. The circumstances of his death are still unknown to date.
The Cincinnati Art Museum and Cincinnati Museum Center recently announced a joint research program on Ball in 2004 underwritten by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Museum and Center are trying to locate images and documents that relate to Ball and his business partners Robert G. Ball, Thomas C. Ball, J.P. Ball Jr., Robert Harlan and Alexander S. Thomas for future publications and exhibitions. Anyone who may have information, please write to "J.P. Ball Project" in care of one of the following:
Kristin L. Spangenberg, Cincinnati Art Museum, 953 Park Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Scott Gampfer, Cincinnati Museum Center, 1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45203.
According to Frank Farmer Loomis IV, in his "Antique Photos Can Be Inexpensive" story online at: http://www.middletownjournal.com/featr/newsfd/auto/feed/features/2004/06/17, Ball was considered the famous photographer of the rich and famous in the 1880s.
"Looking at the list of Mr. Ball's clientele was like reading the"˜Who Was Who in the Mid-1800s," Loomis stated. "Mr. Ball photographed the President Ulysses Grant family, opera singer Jenny Lind and, when the photographer went to England in 1856, he added author Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria to his lists of photographed notables."
Loomis then went on to share the fact that in the few years before Balls death, Sotheby's Auctions of New York City sold one of his 1840 views of Cincinnati for $63,800.
Loomis can be contacted via U.S. mail at: The Middletown Journal, First and Broad Street, Middletown, Ohio 45044, or by e-mailing RMcCrabb@coxohio.com.
Carol L. Haynes compiled a list of Black Residents of Greenbrier, Monroe, Pocahontas and Summers Counties, West Virginia, that can be found at the North House Museum in Lewisburg. For additional information, Haynes can be contacted by e-mailing her at: CHaynes704@aol.com.
Today, the James Presly Ball Studio site at 28 West Fourth Street is considered the second highest rated historic site in Cincinnati.
For more information online about Ball, visit The African American Registry website at http://www.aaregistry.com/african_american_history/1840/James_Presley_Ball_pioneered_Black_photography, or one of the following websites http://www.aapguild.org/ball_jp_andson.html, http://www.sis.pitt.edu/resources/diversity/naa/photography.html, or http://www.soulofamerica.com/cityfldr1/cincinnati13.html, to name a few.
Information about Ball, his history and photographs have been indexed for the Greenbrier Historical Society by Archivist James Talbert from 2001 to present. Talbert can be contacted via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.