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 Frederick I. Monsen  (1865 - 1929)

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Lived/Active: California/New York / Norway      Known for: Indian subject photographer-lantern slides

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
At the turn of the last century, Frederick I. Monsen had a successful career as a photographer and lecturer on American Indian subjects.  Born in Norway, he arrived in Utah with his family when he was three years old.  By his teen age years, he was assisting his photographer father.

"After working as a free-lance photographer and serving with several governmental surveys, he began to give public lectures in 1893. He first traveled among Indian tribes of the Southwest in 1894-95.  Unlike most professional photographers of the time, Monsen preferred Kodak flexible film, along with a smaller, 4 x 5 inch negative.  Around 1900, he established a San Francisco studio, with one of the biggest enlargers on the west coast.  Like Watkins, Monsen lost most of his life's work in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, but he was able to reconstruct much of it by making copies from existing prints.

Turning almost exclusively to lecturing, he spent the rest of his life living in New York City and Pasadena, and continuing his travels in the Southwest.  Employing a derivative style, Monsen's images were picturesque and romanticized."

Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology

Biography from Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site:
Frederick Monsen was an American photographer who was born in 1865.  Monsen was among the most prominent members of the Pasadena Eight, a group dedicated to preserving California history and compiling a record of the Indian tribes of the Southwest.  He first visited the Southwest in 1894 and remained until 1895. 

Other members of the Pasadena Eight that worked in the Southwest with Monsen were Charles Lummis, Adam Clark Vroman, George Wharton James, and Carl Moon.  Their commercial work sold widely, both at local tourist stops and eastern photography galleries, as well as to such popular national publications as Harper's and Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, which reproduced many southwestern images at the turn of the century.  Trade journals reached a more limited audience but carried photographs of higher quality and articles that revealed an attitude toward Pueblo tribes reminiscent of that espoused by Cushing, Bandelier, and other scientists who were first inspired by the area.

"Only to be among these Indians," wrote Monsen, "to hear them talk and to observe their treatment of one another and of the casual stranger that is within their gates, is to have forced upon one, the realization, that here is the unspoiled remnant of a great race, a race of men who have, from time immemorial, lived quiet, sane, wholesome lives, very close to nature."

For the most part, the Pasadena Eight were dedicated to an objective and informed view of Pueblo life and profiling Pueblo tribes captured by their lenses.  This perception closely paralleled that of the anthropologists, who by the turn of the century seemed to have considerable influence over the publicity that conditioned public attitudes toward Indian life in the Southwest.

Monsen authored several books and articles during his career.  In With a Kodak in the Land of the Navajo, he described Navajo and Hopi country as "a land of extinct volcanoes and shadowy canyons, a land of dead and forgotten people."  Martha Sandweiss writes, "In the work of photographers such as Monsen or Charles Lummis or Edward Curtis, the people and the land could be remythologized together and transported to a dim and shadowy past."  In the first third of the twentieth century, photographers such as Monsen, James, Lummis, Curtis and Laura Gilpin became photographer-authors, using the medium of the photographically illustrated book to shape viewers' understanding of their pictures of the West.


Eldredge, Charles C., Julie Schimmel and William H. Truettner.  Art in New Mexico, 1900-1945:  Paths to Taos and Santa Fe.  New York: Abbeville Press, Inc.  1986.

Monsen, Frederick I.  Picturing Indians with the Camera, p. 170.

With a Kodak in the Land of the Navajo.  New York: Rochester Eastman Kodak Company.  1909.

Sandweiss, Martha A.  Dry Light:  Photographic Books and the Arid West  

Internet:    HYPERLINK /~whitney/WMAA/perpetual/drylight  

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