Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1898

William Henry Jackson

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William Henry Jackson, Photographer, Painter, (born 1843 Keesville, New York- died 1942 New York, NY)
American photographer and artist whose landscape photographs of the American West helped popularize the region.

Jackson grew up in New York state, where he learned to draw and to paint. As a teen, he got jobs  in Troy and later in Vermont, where he did retouching for photographic studios. While in Vermont he also learned the art of photography. He served (1862–63) in the American Civil War and returned to Vermont before heading west in 1866. He opened a photography studio in Omaha, Nebraska, the following year and began photographing local Native Americans and scenes from the route of the new Union Pacific transcontinental rail line.

From 1870 to 1878 Jackson was the official photographer for the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. His photographs of the natural wonders of northwestern  Wyoming, taken during the Hayden survey expedition of 1871, were exhibited in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Members of the U.S. Congress were so impressed by Jackson’s photos that his work was one of the major factors in the congressional vote that established Yellow Stone National Park in 1872. Jackson photographed in the Teton Range south of Yellowstone (in an area now part of Grand Teton National Park in 1872, and in 1874 he took photographs of cliff dwellings in southwestern Colorado (now in Mesa Verde National Park). Following his work with the survey, he opened a new studio in Denver Colorado, in 1879.

In 1893 Jackson exhibited his work at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, where he was also the fair’s official cameraman. Shortly thereafter he became the cameraman and part-owner of a company in  Detroit, Michigan, that bought the rights to the new Photo-chromolithographic process for printing photographs in color. He worked there until the company’s collapse in 1924.

Jackson had dabbled in painting throughout his career, and from the mid-1920s until his death he pursued it in earnest. He produced dozens of oils and watercolors during that period, mainly on themes associated with the American West. Jackson continued to take on occasional government commissions, including painting murals for the Works Progress Administration in 1936.