[What follows appeared first in Pacific Magazine on February 12, 2006.]
Sometime after the 30-year-old Frank Nowell married Elizabeth Davis in 1894 the couple moved to California where Frank became an agent for his father Thomas Nowell’s Alaskan mining interests. More fatefully Frank then took a hobbyist’s interest in photography. When he joined his father in 1900, Elizabeth soon followed, bringing Frank’s camera with her. In the next few years Nowell created a photographic record of Alaska that he is still famous for.
In the Northwest Nowell’s admirable record gets a second boost when after being named the “Official Photographer” of the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition he began his meticulous work of recording first the AYP’s construction and then in 1909 the six month world’s fair itself as it was sumptuously outfitted on a University of Washington campus picturesquely re-shaped for it. The size of Nowell’s official endeavor can be grasped from the accompanying photograph of his AYP headquarters and the crew of sixteen photographers fronting it with their tripods and by any standard – especially digital — oversized cameras.
About 660 of Nowell’s AYP images “returned” to campus about forty years ago and most of them can now be enjoyed on the University Libraries webpage. But Nowell and his crew made many thousand of images at AYP and so the nosey mystery recurs: what became of them and the negatives? With mild complaint, AYP collector and student Dan Kerlee notes, “The complexity of the AYP is stunning, and we get just glimpses of it.”
Increasingly, in the next three years Seattle citizens will be getting many more glimpses, and not just Nowell’s. Walt Crowley, director of historylink.org and Leonard Garfield, director of the Museum of History and Industry, as co-chairs of the Mayor’s AYP task force hope by next year to have conceived and scheduled, as Garfield explains it, “the events and activities that commemorate Seattle’s first grand civic celebration, distinguished by its spirit of innovation and internationalism.”
Besides the library link noted above hinstorylink.org is already a fine introduction to the AYP. Dan Kerlee’s now nascent site aype.com already delivers a unique visit to the 1909 expo as shared by an enthused collector. For instance, Kerlee includes a copy of the permit that visitors with cameras were required to purchase and hang on their gear. Howell’s commercial exclusivity was protected by the rule displayed on the permit that visitor’s were restricted to cameras “not exceeding in size 4×5 inches.”