Last chance to catch Lindsay Museum and Gallery’s exhibit on photographer Eschol M. Hammond


By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

LINDSAY – Lindsay’s rise as a destination community in the first half of the 20th Century can be attributed to the pride residents felt in their community and the man who captured it on film.

Photographer Eschol M. Hammond spent his professional life helping capture the best of Porterville and Lindsay which those towns then used to market themselves as blossoming communities bustling with commerce, character and a strong sense of community. Hammond helped make Lindsay a rest stop for celebrities, home of the most recognizable olive company and the most fertile soil for farmers to plant citrus and for families to plant roots.

As one of the few photographers in the area, Hammond also did marketing work for the Lindsay Ripe Olive Company. Photo by Eschol M. Hammond.

As one of the few photographers in the area, Hammond also did marketing work for the Lindsay Ripe Olive Company. Photo by Eschol M. Hammond.

The prolific South Valley photographer is the subject of an exhibit titled “Eschol M. Hammond; Lindsay Through A Lens, 1915-1950” at the Lindsay Museum and Gallery.  The exhibit showcases the Gallery’s collection of Hammond’s photographs of Lindsay through the decades that included two World Wars, the debut of the automobile, telephone, radio and television. Between 1920-1950 Hammond handled all of Lindsay’s photography from marketing material for the Lindsay Ripe Olive Co. to capturing the heart of the community’s Orange Blossom Festival.

“He shaped the identity of Lindsay and how the community saw itself,” said Sarah Troop, curator of the Lindsay Museum and Gallery.

Located on Main Street just down the road in Porterville, Hammond was one of the only photographers working in the area at that time. As a professional photography, he was contracted by the Lindsay Ripe Olive Co. to do product shots of cans of olives, men working at the olive plant and of olive plantings in the area. His photographs were used in local and national marketing campaigns for the company that put the Lindsay name on the map.

Hammond also worked as a freelance photographer for the Lindsay Gazette newspaper to cover major events in town. He was contracted annually to photograph the large crowds, intricate floats and hometown faces of those participating in the Orange Blossom Festival.

As director of the Porterville Chamber of Commerce, Hammond also had a sense of how to use his photographs to attract new business to town. In Lindsay, he used the Mt. Whitney Hotel, the only air conditioned hotel between LA and San Francisco, to create a marketing pamphlet to attract celebrities to town on driving vacations, or to serve as the OBF queen’s escort.

“Every monumental occasion that took place in Lindsay, it was literally viewed through the lens of his camera,” Troop said.

Hammond was born on a farm in Morris County, Kansas, on Dec. 10, 1890. His parents James M. and Margaret (Hinton) Hammond brought their family to California in 1907 but stayed less than a year after learning they were not suited to the pioneering lifestyle of the West. Eschol, now 16 years old, decided to stay and officially made his home in Porterville on Jan. 31, 1908. He took a job working for local photographer and theater operator A.R. Moore. For $5 per week, Eschol did odd jobs around the theater located on Main Street but also studied very closely the art and process of photography.

After several years of working for Moore, Hammond returned to his father’s home state of Tennessee to enroll in a special school of photography. In 1914, Eschol returned to Porterville to work for Moore until July 4, when a fire destroyed the theater. Ten days later he opened his own studio. Within a decade, Hammond became one of the most recognized photographers in California.

The most notable photograph that helped propel Eschol to photography fame came just a year after opening his studio. In July 1915, Hammond made the ascent of Mount Whitney carrying 40 pounds of camera equipment. He camped over night in order to secure morning views from the summit of this highest peak in the United States. From one of the photos he developed a 15-foot tall photograph of majestic mountain’s charm and beauty, which displayed on the walls of his studio. Hammond died on May 8, 1952.

“He was one of the first to photograph Mt. Whitney,” Troop said. “And while not as famous as Ansel Adams, Hammond was recognized as one of the best landscape photographers of his time he just chose not to travel around like some of the others. He remained based in Porterville.”

Troop said a favorite of those visiting the exhibit is a picture of a poppy field outside of Lindsay with the foothills and mountain tops in the background. Hammond’s nature work stretched from Lindsay to the Oregon border, including breathtaking photographs of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Troop said all of the images in the exhibit were taken from Hammond’s original glass plate slides and film negatives which took months to restore after years of collecting dust. The exhibit also includes Hammond’s original hand-painted sign which hung on his Main Street studio, and a massive 1903 Kodak camera that Hammond used for in-studio portraits.

This is the last week to catch the show before it gives way to the annual Orange Blossom Festival art show sponsored by the Lindsay Art Association from April 13 to May 6. The number of digitally restored images of the height of Orange Blossom Festival makes this week a perfect time to catch the end of the show. The Lindsay Museum and Gallery is located at 165 N. Gale Hill Ave. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Friday and Sunday. Admission is free.

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