Kinsey, Photographer

JTF (just the facts): Published in 1978 by Black Dog & Leventhal. 320 pages, with 206 duotone photographs. With essays by Darius Kinsey Jr. and Dorothea Kinsey Parcheski. (Cover shot at right.)

Comments/Context: While it is easy for collectors to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the constant barrage of new contemporary photography, the fact is that there are plenty of lesser known photographers from days gone by that are worth re-examining from time to time. Darius Kinsey is just such an artist. I was reminded of his work when I saw a single excellent print that was included in the MoMA’s Into the Sunset show (review here), and decided to purchase this book for our library so I could dig deeper.

Kinsey made an astonishing group of pictures between 1890 and 1939, chronicling the logging of the Pacific Northwest. Using large format cameras (8×10, 11×14, and 20×24) and glass plates, he documented nearly every stage of the process (from felling to sawmill), as well as the surrounding lifestyle that was created. There are images of men with axes and cross-cut saws, perched on top of mountainous firs and cedars and lying precariously in the deep cuts made in the giant trees. Pictures of wood plank logging camps and homesteads, rickety railroads and trucks, and rivers full of shingles help to tell the story of how the logs were processed and transported, and the images of the workers show hard but honorable men with sturdy boots, heavy work clothes, suspenders and hats. There are even landscape photos of the expeditions Kinsey took to nearby glaciers, mountains, and unspoiled streams.

The truly memorable part of this body of work is the breathtaking scale of the trees themselves, so massive as to make the honorable working men look like mice. And while most of these images function best as historical documents, there are many among this lifetime of picture making that rise to the level of art, where Kinsey’s careful framing and use of light make otherwise standard shots resonate with power and humanity across the years.

Collector’s POV: Few if any prints by Darius Kinsey have been sold at auction in at least the past five years, perhaps longer. A handful of his images can be found from time to time with various dealers, usually priced under $1000.

Transit Hub:

  • University of Washington library collection (here)
  • Whatcom Museum of History & Art collection (here)

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