Alexander Hesler Photograph Collection
Alexander Hesler was one of the most prominent and respected regional photographers of his era. Born in 1823 near Montreal, Hesler spent much of his youth in Quebec and Vermont before moving to Racine, Wisconsin around 1833. He took employment as a clerk but tired of this work and decided, in 1847, to learn the craft of daguerreotype. He journeyed to Buffalo for training and in only ten days became skilled in this first major photographic process. For nearly fifty years beginning in 1848 Hesler operated a succession of photographic studios and galleries in Madison, Wisconsin; Galena, Illinois; Chicago and Evanston. Possessing broad technical abilities, he was able to exploit new photographic media as they appeared over the course of the nineteenth century. When the daguerreotype faded from popularity he mastered the wet and, later, dry plate photographic processes. In addition, he was quick to recognize the popular appeal of the stereoscope and produced for sale stereoscopic views as well as other paper-based prints, the bulk of which were portraits and landscapes. Hesler was active in national and regional photographic societies and was recognized for his work at several important fairs and expositions including the 1853 World’s Exposition, the Chicago Mechanics Institute of the same year, and the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held at Philadelphia. Through his contributions to photographic journals he advocated high standards of professionalism for his colleagues and decried what he considered the crass commercialism evident in much contemporary work. Hesler’s best known works include several portraits of Abraham Lincoln and a series of Chicago views taken in 1858 from the top of the city’s courthouse. His daguerreotype of Minnehaha Falls reportedly inspired Longfellow to write the poem, “Hiawatha.” Hesler spent the major portion of his career in Chicago and for five years after the 1871 Chicago fire operated a studio in his home in Evanston. Much of his Evanston work centered on portraiture and his customers included many Northwestern University students and faculty. In addition to this portrait work, Hesler produced widely admired landscape photographs. In 1887 he published a book of town and streetscapes entitled Photographic Views of Picturesque Evanston. Hesler died in Evanston on July 5, 1895.
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