Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sarah Ladd-Pioneering Portland Photographer

By the turn of the twentieth-century, the visual arts became an established part of Pacific Northwest culture. Artists worked and lived there. The wealthy, whose money came from banking, law, timber, and railroads, began collecting European, Asian, and some American painting, prints, and sculpture. Artists and supporters began to form organizations to exhibit art, some of which was on loan and shown expressly for the purpose of enhancing the cultural sophistication of the community. Instruction in the arts became available. Early local magazines such as The Westerner and The Week-End, covered the arts and the visual arts. And, more important to this researcher, local female artists were featured in The Westerner magazine.

The 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition's exhibitions of international, national and local artists brought art to everyone. During this twenty-year time period, from 1890 until 1910, the expansion of railroad service to the Puget Sound region (Northern Pacific Railroad to Tacoma in 1885 and Great Northern Railroad to Seattle in 1893) and the discovery of gold in Alaska/Yukon,1896, resulted in a tremendous population boom. The influx into this stunning region brought artists (and people whose children would become artists), patrons, art appreciators, writers about art, and art educators.

Sarah H. Ladd
Early Morning above Vancouver
 Published in Pacific Monthly, Volume 14 No 1, 1905

Sarah Hall Ladd (13 April 1860 – 30 March 1927) was an early 20th-century American pictorial and landscape photographer. Ladd was born Sarah L. Hall in Somerville, Massachusetts, the daughter of John Gill Hall and Sarah Cushing. Little is known about her childhood. In 1881, Ladd relocated to Portland with her new husband, Charles, the son of leading Portland businessman William S. Ladd. The couple settled in a home that overlooked the Willamette River and began a comfortable life together.

It is not known or documented precisely when Ladd developed an interest in photography, but sources claim she joined the Oregon Camera Club in September 1899, and, by early 1901, a number of her works were on exhibition in San Francisco. In 1903, New York photographer Alfred Stieglitz formed Photo-Secession, an early-20th century movement that strove to elevate photography as a fine art. The group never numbered more than 105 members and were from various cities across the United States. Sarah Hall Ladd, Gertrude K√§sebier, Edward Steichen, Clarence H. White, and Lily E. White were included among the select membership.

Sarah H. Ladd
Columbia River
Early 1900s
In 1903, the adventurous Ladd and White began to take extended trips on the Columbia River on White’s custom-built houseboat, the Raysark, a vessel that contained a darkroom. Both women excelled at photography and became internationally known for their pictorialist-style landscapes of the Columbia Gorge filled with soft light, clouds and atmosphere. Their photographs illustrated travel brochures and magazines helping draw tourism to the area.  

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Sarah H. Ladd
Submerged Forest
Early 1900s
Ladd took this photograph of the “submerged forest” on the Columbia River between 1902-1904. The remains of trees in the river are found 25 miles above Cascade Rapids. Most of this area is now submerged behind Bonneville Dam, 40 miles east of Portland. In those days, travel was a challenge as roads were not paved and the terrain was unfriendly to motorized vehicles.

By 1904, Ladd’s social and familial responsibilities kept her away from her photography. She was invaluable to her husband when he became part of the preparations for Portland’s 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. In 1910, the Ladds moved to the town of Carlton, Oregon, after Charles became president of the Carlton Consolidated Lumber Company. In spite of these additional obligations, however, Ladd managed to exhibit fourteen photographs at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Ladd became a prominent member in the Christian Science movement beginning in 1911. After Ladd’s husband died in 1920, she moved to Carmel, California in late 1924 to join her long-time friend, Lily White. Ladd lived in Carmel for the rest of her life. She died there on March 30, 1927.


Further reading:

James V. Hillegas, Oregon Historical Society, Oregon History Project,

 Carole Glauber, “Eyes of the Earth: Lily White, Sarah Ladd, and the Oregon Camera Club,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 108:1 (Spring 2007), 34-69.

Richard L. Hill, “Science-Landslide Sleuths,” Oregonian May 15, 2002.

Jim E. O’Connor, “The Evolving Landscape of the Columbia River Gorge: Lewis and Clark and Cataclysms on the Columbia,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 105:3 (Fall 2004), 390-421.

Oregon Experience, The River they Saw, Photographer Profiles,

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