Saturday, March 31, 2012

London's California Earthquake PIX

It is still magic after all these years: Slowly the black and white image comes to life in the darkroom tray at the headquarters of the California Historical Society in San Francisco. The picture is from another time, but it is sharp and clear -- it is of a huge domed building, all in ruins, as if it had been bombed.

It is the wreckage of San Francisco's City Hall (above), destroyed in an earthquake a century ago this spring. It is a remarkable picture, but the photographer was even more remarkable. He was Jack London.

London was at the height of his fame as an author in 1906, and he and his new wife, Charmian, roamed the ruins of San Francisco on assignment for Collier's magazine, making notes, interviewing people and taking photographs.

He was paid 10 cents a word, and his eyewitness account of the disaster is a classic of magazine reporting. But his pictures -- dozens of them -- have never been exhibited in public, said Stephen Becker, the California Historical Society's executive director.

The photographs themselves have been seen by researchers and scholars but have never been developed on modern equipment and superior photographic paper.

"This is the first time these pictures have ever been printed like this,'' said Philip Adam, the California Historical Society's photographer. He was busy making several of the prints Thursday morning in advance of an exhibition at the historical society. It opened Feb. 9 at the society's San Francisco gallery at 678 Mission St.

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