Arthur French: Tacoma Photographer in Focus

Arthur French, a photographer in Tacoma during the turn of the last century, may not have left as significant a mark as some larger photographers and studios. However, his work provides a unique visual record. He captured not only the physical structures of Tacoma but also offering glimpses into the lives of its residents through intimate interior photographs of clubs and businesses from that era.

In 1899, Arthur French’s first commercial photography studio was found at 936 Pacific Ave. An advertisement in the Tacoma Daily Ledger at that time revealed that this studio had embraced cutting-edge technology, a ‘Flashlight apparatus’ capable of producing portraits indistinguishable from those taken in natural light.”

In 1900, French published his photobook titled “Views of Tacoma, Wash.” This collection featured fifty meticulously crafted photogravures, showcasing downtown Tacoma, Mount Rainier, the Tacoma Hotel, Puyallup salmon fishing canoes, and the bustling waterfront. An advertisement in the December 2nd, 1900, issue of the Tacoma Daily Ledger touted it as an ideal Christmas souvenir, "A copy sent East for Christmas will show your friends, as well as tell them, all about Tacoma."

In 1901, French’s photograph graced the cover of the seventh volume of “The State,” a Northwest literary and review journal. His work resonated with the region’s artistic community. French’s photos continued to gain prominence when they were featured in the prosperity edition of the Evening News in 1903. His keen eye captured the spirit of a thriving and growing Tacoma. In the same year, French moved his studio to the ground floor unit at 905 Pacific Ave.

The fourth annual convention of the Pacific Northwest Photographers Association convened in September of 1904 at the Masonic Temple. French participated in the event, exhibiting his work alongside renowned photographer Edward Curtis. The four-day event featured an exhibition on photographic art, both amateur and professional, classes on photography, and "demonstrations of various photo papers under different light, including violet ray light, said to be the newest thing in photography" An article in the Tacoma Daily Ledger emphasized the convention’s significance. Local Tacoma photographers agreed not to schedule sittings during the event, highlighting its importance in their professional lives.

The Arthur French Photograph Collection, housed in the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room. Explore his images on ORCA and discover the essence of early 20th-century Tacoma through French’s lens.

Some of the Northwest Room's favorite images in this collection include: