H. H. Bennett – Photographer
“My energies for near a lifetime have been used almost entirely to win such prominence as I could in outdoor photography.”—H. H. Bennett
Henry Hamilton Bennett (1843–1908) became a celebrated photographer in the half-century following the American Civil War. Bennett is admired for his superb depictions of dramatic landscapes of the Dells of the Wisconsin River and also for his many technical innovations in photography, including a stop-action shutter and a revolving solar printing house that is now housed at the Smithsonian Institution. With his instantaneous shutter, he gained recognition for his striking images of moving subjects, such as lumber raftsmen shooting the river rapids and his son Ashley leaping in midair from a bluff to the craggy pillar of Stand Rock. Less well-known are Bennett’s splendid urban photographs of nineteenth-century Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul.
This engaging biography of H. H. Bennett tells his life story, illustrated throughout with his remarkable photographs, some of them rarely viewed before. It draws on the photographer’s own letters and journals, along with other family documents, to portray the sweep of his career and personal life. An important figure in the history of photography, he also contributed to the growth of American tourism: his nationally distributed stereoscopic views of Dells rock formations and his portraits of local Ho-Chunk Indians played a significant role in creating the Wisconsin Dells as the popular tourist destination it is today. Despite personal challenges—a crippling Civil War injury, the death of his first wife, and continual financial worries—Bennett produced an extensive portfolio that captures the midwestern culture of his time. He accepted commissions in the 1890s to document Chicago’s modern skyscrapers, grand residences of Milwaukee’s entrepreneurs and sailing ships in its harbor, enormous scenic panoramas along the routes of Wisconsin railroads, and sparkling ice palaces lit by fireworks at the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
Finalist, Midwest Regional Interest, Midwest Book Awards