EDSON GRAHAM: A FORGOTTEN PHOTOGRAPHER (July 13/01)

It was high tide at Harbourville at some time in the 1920s, and the photographer took the picture when a ship, sails unfurled, rested at quayside.

When I first saw the photograph I thought it was another example of the superb artistry of A. L. Hardy (1860 – 1935). Hardy was renowned for capturing countless Annapolis Valley seascapes and landscapes with his camera; his works are cherished because they preserved images of a time when the railway was a novelty and beasts of burden still plowed our fields.

However, that moody image of Harbourville at full tide wasn’t Hardy’s work. Years after I first saw the photograph I learned that it was the work of Edson Graham, a contemporary of Hardy who lived and worked in Windsor and Wolfville for at least four decades after 1900.

Edson Graham is not as well known as A. L. Hardy and it can be said that literally, he worked in the latter’s shadow. However, Kentville photographer Larry Keddy rates Graham and Hardy as near equals. “While Hardy may have had a slight edge, they were both technically superb,” Keddy says of the two photographers.

Like Hardy, Edson Graham apparently delighted in capturing images of the Annapolis Valley in the days of sailing ships, ox teams and covered bridges. Many of Graham’s photographs recorded an era in the Valley long gone and have a nostalgic tinge that appeals to many. Decades after Graham retired and moved out of the province, his prints of landscape photographs were still being sold by a local studio.

Larry Keddy rates Edson Graham as a superb photographer who “turned out really great work” and deserves more recognition. Graham was profiled in the 1985 Nimbus publication, An Atlantic Album (subtitle: Photographs of the Atlantic Provinces before 1920) by Scott Robson and Sheila Mckenzie. That Graham rated inclusion in this book is indeed a tribute to his artistry and professionalism with a camera. The profile salutes Graham’s work both as a landscape and portrait photographer and is reprinted here with permission of Nimbus Publishing.

“Professional photographer, Windsor and Wolfville, N.S. Born at Debert… 1869. Spent his teen years in the U. S. learning photographic skills…. Returned to Nova Scotia to operate West End Studio, Truro, for a few years. Moved to Windsor and became manager of the Robson Studio, Windsor and Wolfville; purchased the business when Robson left for Windsor, Ontario. In 1905 Graham moved to Windsor, N.S., where he lived for 40 years. Known for landscape photographs; also a portrait photographer, especially of the students at Acadia University. Published postcard photographs of the university. In 1935 he won the highest award for tinted photographs at the Provincial Exhibition. Died December 1956 at Daytona, Florida.”

A few details on Graham’s life can be found in the Wolfville history, Mud Creek (published in 1985 by the Wolfville Historical Society and edited by James Doyle Davison). These references, nine in all, indicate that Graham must have passed most of his working life in Wolfville, rather than Windsor.

The first reference to Graham in the history is mention of an announcement in 1904 that W. W. Robson would re-open his photographic studio with Edson Graham as manager. “Edson Graham, who had completed thirty-five years in the photography business, changed the name of his establishment to Acadia Studio,” reads a reference from the year 1940. Graham is listed as a member of the Wolfville Chamber of Commerce in 1939, a charter member of the Wolfville Rotary Club (1935) a charter member of the Wolfville Historical Society (1941) and a Wolfville town councillor in 1919 and 1920.

One thought on “EDSON GRAHAM: A FORGOTTEN PHOTOGRAPHER (July 13/01)

  1. I have a photograph of 2 family members who I am trying to identify which has Graham, Truro, NS on the front. Is there any way I can trace it?

    Like

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