Forty Mile, Yukon Territory,
Canada ; Feb. 6 th 1932 .
Mr Rufus Mallinson,
Dear Mr Mallinson;
My last copy of the A.P. and C. has just reached me; your advertisement was
one of the first to meet my eye. I would be glad if you would please send me
some particulars of your Classes.
I have read and re-read your “Free-lance Journalism with a Camera” and thoroughly
enjoyed it. So you see that your fame has already spread to one of the four
corners – if the Yukon Territory can be looked upon as a ‘corner'. I got a
great ‘kick' out of the photo ‘Look fellows – one hand'. Seems to me that I've
seen this reproduced either in AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHY or PHOTO ERA not so very
Maybe a brief explanation of my rather unusual position would help you, although,
of course, I am not kidding myself that you will be even faintly interested.
I am a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stationed in the Yukon,
and stationed at present on the Yukon River about fifty miles below Dawson
and near the Canada-Alaska Boundary. I am an enthusiastic amateur photographer
and, over of Nature – more especially bird-life, but my work, photographically,
is, to put it mildly, punk. What makes this lamentable state of affairs all
the more annoying to me is the fact that I don't seem to improve much. Moreover,
I am anxious, even eager, to be able to make photographs that will sell; and
particularly would I like to write; in fact, as you would put it – to turn
out saleable illustrated journalism. This, too, not entirely from mercenary
motives, although a little extra of the ‘needful' would come in mighty handy
to buy film etc. but because I'd love to do it – to be able to do it. Somehow
or other, though, I have never accomplished anything along these lines; I have,
I imagine, like hundreds of others who have become inoculated with the photographic ‘bug'
sort of drifted along with perhaps no very definite object in view. Maybe I
lack that lack that valuable physiognomical [sic] asset that is supposed to
make an important part of every successful journalist's stock-in-trade – the ‘nose
for news'. Maybe this – or sumpin'. I dunno. Again, up here there is no friendly ‘kinsprit'
( I like this word) with whom I may chat, or discuss – or even argue, on things
photographic – or literary; no clubs – no nuthin' of that sort. Your very natural
replay to this apparently ridiculous excuse would be to ask why I don't send
out prints to the A.P. for criticism, or enter some of the beginners' competitions.
Well, yes – but then you see, my really honest-to-goodness enthusiasm for photography
is but a mere infant hobby of, say, four years old although I have ‘dabbles'
for much longer than this and during that four years I have been stationed
at an isolated Post in the Interior of the Yukon, where we were lucky indeed
to get two mails a year . Now, I ask you, what can an enthusiast do under such
conditions? What indeed. I'm not really trying to make excuses for my ignorance;
if I were even a moderately successful writer and could consistently turn out
marketable photos, I should perhaps have no need to be writing to you at all.
I imagine your Course is designed to help some of us that just don't know.
Now, let me go on. I am expecting during the coming summer to be transferred
to a more northerly post – almost though not quite, as isolated as the one
I have just referred to. This move is not definite. Nothing is very definite – ever – about
our future movements, but I'm hoping for it anyhow. I note in your ad. That
your Course consists of 25 lessons and that the Fee covers a period of Tuition
and Collaboration of twenty months. But what about my unusual position – and
location – where mail comes (in the event of my anticipated transfer) certainly
not oftener than once a month? Would you let me know about this? Again, perhaps
lessons relating specifically to current English News wouldn't be so useful
in my peculiar and isolated position. What think you? I'm awfully interested
in your ad. though, and very anxious to hear from you.
Should I be moved, my life would be spent amongst Indians principally; furs;
dog-teams; tents; log-cabins; fish-nets; trading-posts and such-like; these
are the very life itself in these isolated districts. Such luxuries as street-cars,
autos, electric-lights, horses, cattle and so on are unheard-of almost – certainly
never seen. (I know this particular post I refer to, as I once spent three
years there some time ago.)
Again, there is a period of the year during the winter months when climatic
conditions almost entirely prevent any photographic activities – out-of-doors
anyway. I'm quite aware that the magazines do their utmost to encourage all
of us to keep up our work during the winter months, but then I'm sure the writers
of this encouraging advice haven't as a rule experienced the questionable delights
of making photos with the mercury lurking dangerously near the bottom of the
tube – around the 40 below mark often; not every day of course, but uncomfortably
often. I mention this in passing in order that you may see that it might not
always be convenient to do much work out-of-doors at times.
Isn't my letter, for a business enquiry, rapidly assuming vast proportions?
It certainly is, but I ask your forgiveness – and forbearance – a little longer
My equipment? Here it is. A LEICA with an f 3.5 lens in Compur Shutter; a
quarter-plate TRONA with Zeiss Tessar lens of 13.5 cm. focal length, max. aperture
of f4.5, double extension and plate back; this latter I also have a Dallmeyer
2x telephoto lens, (a recent acquisition, not yet tried); and a 4 x 5 SOHO
Reflex; also a FILMO with two or three lenses though this wont interest you
I suppose. Then I have also a SALEX Little Junior Enlarger taking any size
neg. from the Leica to the quarter-plate; this is equipped with an Acetylene
4-jet burner. There is also a K1 filter for the Zeiss f4.5 and an Ilford ‘Alpha'
filter for the telephoto lens. I have, of course, the necessary equipment for
developing and printing – not elaborate, but fairly serviceable, including
a Tank for the Leica film and a new DALLAN tank for the q/p films – the latter
also a new and untried accessory. For sensitive material I have been experimenting
lately with various cut-film and packs, including the Ilford pan. film; I hope
this summer to be able to try the Ilford Golden-Izo-Zenith plates of which
I already have three or four dozen. With regard to the SOHO Reflex, I had thought
of getting rid of this and purchasing a T.P. Duplex Reflex, size 3 ½ x
2 ½ equipped with a 2x tele lens. I wanted this more especially for
action pictures of birds and I have found the Soho is too much of a load, particularly
when one cannot venture far afield in this country without some sort of a rifle
for fear of disturbing a too-affectionate she-bear with cubs. Then too, on
a day's trip one must take lunch, maybe a blanket if camping-out, and of course,
the inevitable tea-pot. All this, plus the 4 x 5 makes quite a respectable
load when one must carry it in a pack-sack; gets quite heavy by camping-time.
I'm not so sure of the Duplex as I have had no personal experience of it, although
I have heard that it is quite a reliable and serviceable instrument. At all
events, it must be lighter, and smaller, than the Soho 4 x 5. The focal-plane
shutter on the latter, too, disturbs the whole country-side at every exposure – it
is frightfully noisy. I have succeeded in some small degree (very small alas)
in securing some photos of birds at their nests with the TRONA and Zeiss lens,
though naturally the image is rather small; it was to remedy this that I purchased
the 2x tele. lens last spring, but in addition to such pictures, I would like
to get ‘action' pictures, and for this, perhaps the TRONA is hardly suitable.
In conclusion, let me apologise [sic] for the length of this outburst, but
do let me ask you this; have you made a trip lately to Wakerly Woods? I noticed
you mentioned in your book that you had been there, and at once I waggled my
ears and opened my eyes. I've wandered as a boy around Wakerly Woods many times
and past Finesha de Abbey. I went to school in Stamford , where C.H. Thrower
was head-master, in about 1900. It was some Endowed School – have just forgotten
the name of it, as I went only a short time. Too, my father was head-master
of Barrowden National School from 1895 to 1903 and we had so many children
from the village of Wakerly , so I know that district as well as a school-boy
would be expected to know it. I passed my own teacher's Queen's Scholarship
Exam. in Peterboro' in 1902 I think it was, and taught in Barrowden under the
supervising eye of my old dad. He is now retired and living in Dersingham in
Norfold, near Sandringham .
Wakerly Woods. What memories the name recalls. I shall look forward to hearing
from you; mails come via Dawson every ten days, so we are quite civilized .
Yours very truly,
P.S. Location of this Post is about 50 miles below Dawson right on the banks
of the Yukon River and about 40 miles east of the Canada-Alaska Boundary line – the
last Canadian Post before entering Alaska . Should I be transferred as I have
already hinted, my next home would be up the Porcupine River about 50 miles approx
East of the International Boundary, latitude approx. 67.30 N. longitude 139 W.
right at the mouth of the Old Crow River . Nearest P.O. at Fort Yukon in Alaska
on the Yukon River at the mouth of the Porcupine. More of this later perhaps.