Volume IV, No. 3, Spring 1977
by Diana Foreman and Carla Roberts
Old photographs by George E. Hall, courtesy of his daughter, Lillian Hall Tyre
"You're pulling my leg," was the response we received when showing these photographs to the other Bittersweet staff members. But we aren't pulling your leg. These are real photographs taken by George E. Hall in the early 1900's for the Martin Postcard Company. "Where?" you may be wondering. Right here in the Ozarks, of course. Most were taken around Notch, Branson and Galena, Missouri.
George Hall was a traveling photographer in the hills of southern Missouri. Photography studios were rare in those days. Most photographers traveled from town to town to village in their buggies, carrying all their photographic equipment with them. Many would go to a town and set up a tent as a makeshift studio and then spend two or three weeks taking pictures for the local people before moving on to another town.
But George Hall preferred the rural areas to towns as shown by his hundreds of river and cave scenes. So, his traveling was among the farm families. He carried all his photography equipment on horseback in saddlebags, but would have to return to his home to do the developing and printing. His camera was a post card camera, taking photographs the size of postcards. The tripod for his camera had folding legs so it would fit in the saddlebags with his cases of glass plates and other photography equipment as well as his living supplies.
While he was traveling, Mr. Hall would spend the nights or would eat his meals with the families he was photographing. This was how he met his wife. After two years of courting and taking pictures, they were married in 1910.
For their honeymoon, Mr. Hall and his new bride spent a month on the James and White Rivers, floating, fishing and taking photographs.
After their honeymoon, the Halls lived on a forty acre farm in Mutton Hollow near his family who lived in the Jim Lane cabin made famous by The Shepherd of the Hills, the novel by Harold Bell Wright. Then, Mr. Hall began photographing all the people, scenes and places depicted in the novel as well as continuing with pictures of the local rivers, caves and people.
At this time he was making fifty to a hundred prints of his photographs and selling them to tourists as postcards. Later, he traded his forty acre farm for a Model T Ford and moved to Galena, Missouri, where he was a "jitney driver," --he ran a taxi service. Most of his photographs were taken before this move to Galena.
All this answers the where that these pictures were taken. "Well, how did Mr. Hall take them?" you may be wondering now. That question is a bit more difficult to explain. First, he would have to plan each picture carefully in advance, maybe even drawing the idea, as all the pictures would have to be posed.
Let's look at the wagon load of apples for an example. Mr. Hall would pose first the wagon, mules and driver. This wouldn't be hard for the wagon was a typical sight at that time, a wagon load of loose hay. Next, he would take a close up of a platter of apples. Both the position of the apples on the platter and the distance from the camera would have to be carefully calculated so the apples and the load of hay would match.
After developing and printing both the pictures of the wagon load of hay and the platter of apples, Mr. Halt would very carefully cut out the apples so that none of the background or platter showed. Then on the other picture he cut all the hay off the wagon. This part was especially tedious because he had to be very careful to leave the driver, reins, and side posts of the wagon. Next Mr. Hall slipped the apples into the empty space left from the hay and glued them in position.
This third [fifth] picture when developed and printed looked like a man standing on a wagon load of apples. Or four large chickens on a weight scale. Or corn so big it takes a crosscut saw to "pick" it.
It really doesn't matter that now you know the tricks behind these pictures. They're still droll enough to make farmers wish for the good old days when it took a team of horses to move three pumpkins, or when wheat had to be lassoed to be harvested.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.