Annie J Cannon: In the footsteps of Columbus

Annie Jump Cannon sailed to Spain in 1892 and took photographs with her Kameret, made by the Blair Camera Company of Boston. For the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, her photographic work was published alongside her own prose in a pamphlet titled "In the footsteps of Columbus". Here are the first few paragraphs of her pamphlet:

Another custom house!

I had taken my Kamaret into many lands, and trembled on every frontier lest the six spools of films should be exposed to light. I had twisted the one phrase, 'camera photographic', by means of accents and terminations, into nearly all the languages of Europe. Accustomed, therefore, to pantomime rather than speech, when the representative of Uncle Sam on the Red Star pier at Jersey City gazed curiously at my box, I merely turned back the cover of the case, and displayed "The Blair Camera Co., Manufacturers, Boston, Mass., U.S.A."

"When do you expect to go again?" was almost the first question I heard.

"Immediately," I replied.

Not with spreading sail, or the puffing of a mighty engine, not over the rushing waters of the great deep. My second transatlantic journey was taken in the familiar household pantry, in former days given over to ginger cakes and mince-meat pies, but now, in the evolution of science, completely usurped by mysterious-looking bottles, a large, starch-box lantern with its Polyphemus-eye of ruby fabric, and all the bundles of touch-nots, handle-nots, that make up an amateur's dark-room.

It was the 21st of October - Columbus Day - when I gave a negative to callers, locked the door of the larder and started again through that country which, if it did not give birth to the discoverer of America, resounded for many years to his footsteps, and, at last, gave him the means of starting on that most wondrous voyage.

O Espana, home of the Cid, of Isabella the Catholic, of Columbus, thou hast charms no other land possesses! Thy Castilian valleys weave poetry into the plainest soul. Thy Andalusian mountains breathe romance and song into the very spirit. I am not an artist, but thy splendid sun has painted on my Blair films scenes more truthful than brush or pencil could portray, I am not a poet, but my Kamaret photographs sing thy praise better than song or sonnet.

From the moment of entering Spain, the Kamaret seemed to be a passport to the good-will and kindly interest of the people. The first custom-house officer, to be sure, examined it doubtfully. I had been told that a camera in Spain would give me endless trouble.

" Camera fotographica," I murmured.

My Spanish may have been at fault, for I know not even now what they call them, but it answered the purpose. The gallant officer smiled rather apologetically and chalked the box.

Subjects for snap-shots now presented themselves on every side, and, though I had not thought of taking many interiors, the temptation to try one came early in the journey. From Burgos we made an excursion to the ancient convent, Miraflores, where Isabella the Catholic erected magnificent marble tombs over the remains of her parents. We were admitted by a monk in a picturesque, white serge costume; and, in the chapel, a large robust brother was sweeping up the floor. In response to a question we addressed him, he replied that if we were strangers he could talk with us. We said, indeed we were, for we had come from America. At the word America, he became interested and uncovered the high altar adorned, as he said, with the first gold brought into Spain from the New World. It is, perhaps, the most elaborate and ornate retable on the Peninsula, covered with figures of saints and apostles, kings and queens, a mass of gold and carvings. A determination to bring home a picture of that altar seized me. But I had no tripod, and it was necessary to rest the Kamaret on something to make a time-exposure. There was absolutely nothing in the chapel except the priests' stalls. Should I venture? At worst, I could but spoil a film. So, while the monk conversed in a whisper on the other side of the chapel with my friend, I placed the Kamaret on the arm of a priest's chair, arranged the shutter, and made a three minutes' exposure.

Last Updated November 2018