Seneca Ray Stoddard and the Advent of Photography

With the invention of photography in the 1800’s, landscape photography was extensively implemented in place of paintings as a means of surveying and explaining the Adirondack landscape.  By this time, perceptions of the Adirondacks as a wild, unknown territory were also beginning to fade as the region became more accessible and familiar.  People like Verplanck Colvin, the appointed superintendent of the New York State land survey, were beginning to view the Adirondacks as a landscape worth preserving, and these perceptions were reflected in photographs evincing reasons to protect the region from environmentally harmful actions like logging and dam construction.

Verplanck Colvin, originally from Albany, grew up a lover of the Adirondacks and spent much of his life exploring and writing about the Adirondacks and its protection.  Colvin began his plea for conservation of the Adirondacks in 1872 when he published his 1870 account of hiking Mt. Seward, continuing throughout the 1870s to conduct surveys of the Adirondack region and advocating for its protection (Terrie 89).  Photographs revealing the Adirondack's unique landscape and reasons to preserve it were critical to Colvin’s efforts, and he hired photographer Seneca Ray Stoddard (right) in 1878 to head the photographic division of the New York State Topographical Survey of the Adirondacks (Crowley 5). Stoddard captured over 200 views for Colvin’s surveys as well as many large 360° panoramas from mountain tops.  Similar to earlier landscape painters and surveyors, Stoddard’s large landscape photographs were utilized for their ability to accurately portray the Adirondack environment in detail.  Yet, Stoddard’s photos also substantiated arguments for preserving the Adirondacks, providing pictorial evidence of water levels lowering in the Adirondacks as a result of logging and clear cutting (Schneider 224).  Usuing Stoddard’s photos, Colvin explained that decreased water levels jeopardized the existence of many waterways used for transportation, business, and trade, so as a result, he argued the Adirondacks should be preserved.  Specifically, Stoddards photo "Bog River Falls" (lower right) shows overwhelming evidence of the lowering watershed in the Adriondacks. The lower left shows a Stoddard photo exhibiting the debilitating effects of dams on Raquette River.  Evidently, Stoddard's photos helped convey the deblitating effects human actions were having on the Adirondack region.  

 Image result for seneca ray stoddard bog river falls

In light of Colvin’s efforts and the indelible ties between the Adirondack’s waterways and the state’s economy, New York State designated parts of the Adirondacks as a Forest Preserve in 1885.  In 1892, the state drew the blue line around 2.8 million acres of the original Adirondack Park, declaring the land be “forever wild” (Schneider 225).  Finally, in 1894, the state legislature decided that alteration of any Adirondack land would require an amendment to the state constitution (Schneider 227).   Evidently, Colvin’s surveys and Stoddard’s photographs played vital roles in not only explaining the Adirondacks, but in promoting new perceptions of the Adirondacks as a place that should be cherished and conserved.


Works Cited

Crowley, William. Seneca Ray Stoddard: Adirondack Illustrator. New York: The Adirondack Museum, 1982. Print.

Schneider, Paul. The Adirondacks: A History of America’s First Widlerness. New York: Henry and Holt Inc, 1997. Print.

Terrie, Philip G. Contested Terrain: A New History of Nature and People in the Adirondacks (Ed. A.W. Gilborn, Ed.). Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997. Print.


Image Sources (in order of appearance)

Banner image courtesy of:

Photo of Seneca Ray Stoddard courtesy of:

"Bog River Falls" courtesy of:

"Raquette River" courtesy of: