Introduction to Frank M. Hohenberger's Indiana Photographs by Cecil K. Byrd
Frank M. Hohenberger was a skilled Indiana photographer with a national reputation for his photographs of the people, their homes, and the scenic environment of Brown County, Indiana, and the county seat, Nashville. From 1917 to 1963, he sold thousands of his prints to individuals, newspapers, and magazines, and was in demand for his lecture on "Historic and Scenic Indiana," which he illustrated with lantern slides from his collection. He also authored a column in the Sunday Indianapolis Star under the title "Down in the Hills o Brown County, " for which he was posthumously voted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame in 1976.
Hohenberger was more than a one-county photographer. He traveled far from his Nashville studio in search of subject matter for his camera. He journeyed over the state of Indiana through the years, photographing streets, covered bridges, gristmills, buildings, people, pastoral scenes-anything which he thought was unusual or had historical significance. Beyond Indiana, he photographed in the Carolinas, Virginia, Florida, Cuba, Canada, New England, and the Western states. He was in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and in Mexico four times recording with his camera. He truly believed the solemn declaration he typed in his diary: "Pictures speak the only language all mankind can understand."
Hohenberger was born January 4, 1876, in Defiance, Ohio. He was christened Frank Michael by his parents, John and Louise Hohenberger. At age five he was orphaned and, along with a sister and two brothers, went to live with his paternal grandparents. Frank was sent to a Lutheran German-language school. When he completed his schooling, he began working in a print shop owned by his uncle, Michael Kershner, in Paulding, Ohio. There he was taught to set type and to operate a printing press.
No indisputable information has been found concerning Hohenbergers activities between the time he left Paulding, about 1892, and 1902, when he turned up in Indianapolis. He reported in a letter written to a printers association that he had worked in four states as a printer. When he finished his apprenticeship in his uncles print shop, he became an itinerant, working for short periods on newspapers in Ohio (probably Dayton), Kentucky (one source points to the Courier Journal in Louisville), and Illinois (most probably Chicago).
Hohenberger settled in Indianapolis in 1902, working as a compositor on the Indianapolis Star. During that year, he received his membership card in the International Typographic Union. He kept his membership current in the ITU throughout his life and was presented with a sixty-year pin in 1961.
He worked in the composing room of the Star until 1909, when he became a photographer for H. Lieber company of Indianapolis. He was employed by Lieber until 1914, and then was reemployed in the composing room of the Star. Because of a change in ownership, he lost his job with the Star in1916. For a few months following, he took a job managing an Indianapolis camera shop. In the summer of 1917, Hohenberger moved to Nashville and established a studio there. Nashville was to remain his professional address until his death in the Fayette Memorial Hospital at Connersville, Indiana, on November 15, 1963.
From a passage in his diary, we know that Hohenberger started photographing in 1902. One of his earliest photos in this publication, "Claypool Hotel," is dated "State Fair Week, 1904." It is assumed that the dated negatives in the collection represent the approximate dates the exposures were taken. Perhaps the 1904 photo represents the earliest negative he thought worthy of preserving.
Hohenberger was the complete photographer. He pressed the bulb, developed the negative, and made his own prints. Throughout his career, he was constantly experimenting, seeking better results. He confided to his diary on July, 1, 1918.:
Hohenberger selected Nashville as the place to open his photographic studio for two reasons. First, he was attracted by the photogenic opportunities offered there. Between 1912 and 1917, he made several trips to explore the area. His interest was initially aroused when he viewed some Kodak pictures of Brown County taken by an acquaintance. Secondly, he sought stability in his life, which had been marked by frequent changes in employment, and wished to be free from the constraint of a fixed schedule. Nashville meant relative peace, time for reflection, the opportunity to photograph the people and nature in all its aspects, and a chance to develop his own style of photography.
For more than four decades, Hohenberger made a comfortable living selling prints and executing special photographing commissions from his modest studio in Nashville. His income was supplemented by his weekly column in the Sunday Indianapolis Star. The column appeared from 1923 to 1932, and from 1936 to 1954 under the title "Down in the Hills o Brown County." It contained biographical sketches of the residents, stories of gold panning in the county streams, details of court trials, local politics, sketches of local "characters," stories of the early settlers of the county, and news of the local artist colony. Frequently the columns were illustrated with his photos.
His column in the Star did much to promote Brown County as a place to live or visit. The tourist boom which exists there today can, in part, be attributed to Hohenbergers homey journalism and creative photography.
In 1952, Hohenberger published a sixty-three-page pamphlet using his Star column as the title. It was intended as a brief history of the county, its resources and attractions, and contained some original material as well as reprints from various sources.
He was also the publisher and sole writer for a monthly he named the Nashville Observer, issued in twenty-four numbers from February 1955 to February 1957. The monthly was printed on his hand-operated press in his studio. It was, as stated on the masthead, "Devoted to Folks Interested in the Future Welfare of Brown County." The subject measured only 5 by 7 inches and consisted of two to three sheets printed on one side only.
The Hohenberger collection now in the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington, was left as a bequest in his will to the Indiana University Foundation. The Foundation deposited the collection in the Lilly Library in January 1964. In addition to the photographic negatives and prints, the collection contains clippings from various newspapers, a few letters which by accident or design were preserved, and Hohenbergers typewritten diary.
There are more than 17,000 prints and negatives in the collection, not an enormous number for more than sixty years of photography. An unknown number of negatives were destroyed because they did not meet Hohenbergers standard. Many negatives were sold to those who had commissioned the photography. Some of the glass negatives were inadvertently broken. Still, 17,000 permit a comprehension of the range and quality of a long photographic career.
The clippings in the collection are mostly from Nashville and Indianapolis newspapers. Occasionally, items from an out-of-state paper from Bloomington or Columbus paper were preserved. The clippings reflect Hohenbergers interest in artists, bridges, water mills, canals, and the obituaries of well-known Hoosiers, some of whom he had photographed. His columns "Down in the Hills o Brown County" from the Sunday Star are represented. Some of his photos taken in Cuba and Mexico which were published in the rotogravure section of the Sunday Star, as well as occasional topical contributions to the Indianapolis New, were clipped and preserved.
The manuscripts in the collection are a miscellany. There are a few letters received, which Hohenberger thought important enough to retain, invoices, a typed account of his trip to Cuba, a few carbon copies of letters sent, carbons of some of his Sunday columns for the Star, lists and addresses of people to whom he sent his brochures of prints for sale, an account book, and, most important, his diary.
The letters are mostly acknowledgements and words of praise for photos received by the correspondents. There is, however, a series of letters from Webb Waldron, a journalist who was writing an article on Hohenberger which was published in the American Magazine in October 1933. The other significant series of letters were from Gene Stratton-Porter, her husband C.D. Porter, and secretary. They relate to photography which Hohenberger did at their log cabin home on Sylvan Lake near Rome City, Indiana.
The account book demonstrates the meticulous way Hohenberger conducted his business. He recorded in his "Cash Book" the names of his customers, the items sold, and the amount received for the years 1956-62. In addition, he recorded postage paid, and car and sundry expenses for some years. His income was modest, but a bank card inserted in the account book listed a balance on June 23, 1963, of $3,701.79 in his checking account and $10,135.60 in a savings account. (Hohenberger spent much of his income photographic supplies, equipment, and journals of the trade.)
The Hohenberger diary consists of 573 pages, typed single-spaced on loose-leaf, legal-size paper. The first entry was dated October 1, 1917, and the last April 21, 1957. It contains much about Brown County people, their manners and customs, their pithy talk in the vernacular, and reports on his friends in the artist colony. Many of the anecdotes were recorded in his Sunday column in the Star.In addition to the personalities he wrote about, he recorded his experiences on some of his photographic trips both in and out of the county.
The diary also contains notes for his lectures on nature, long passages from photographic journals, and records of expenses on out-of-town trips. He did not make daily entries in the diary, nor did he reveal much of himself. Frequently a sentence or paragraph can be interpreted as a nudge to his memory in writing his Star column. In reading the diary today, one has the impression that the dialect of the local people was exaggerated and the anecdotes were improved by Hohenbergers imagination.
There have been two previous publications relating to Hohenberger which contain reproductions of his photos. The first, by Lorna Lutes Sylvester, appeared in three installments in the Indiana Magazine of History (September 1975, March and September 1976), under the title "Down in the Hills o Brown County: Photographs by Frank M. Hohenberger." Sylvesters articles, the most comprehensive of the two publications, contained reproductions of 127 Hohenberger photos. All but two of these were of Brown County residents and scenes.
The second publication, a book by Dillion Bustin titled If You Dont Outdie Me: The Legacy of Brown County, was published by Indiana University Press in 1982. Bustin used seventy-three Hohenberger photos in his book, all of people and scenes of Brown County. Both Bustin and Sylvester quoted liberally from Hohenbergers diary in their publications.
This [Frank M. Hohenberger's Indiana Photographs] publication contains 124 reproductions of Hohenbergers photographs, taken throughout the state of Indiana between 1904 and 1950. There are photographs of scenes in Indianapolis, Madison, Vevay, Nashville, Corydon, Saint Meinrad, Lincoln City, Santa Claus, Metamora, Brookville, Bloomington, Ellettsville, Martinsville, Avoca, Spencer, West Baden Springs, Liberty, Connersville, Spring Mill State Park, New Harmony, Aurora, Birdseye, Logansport, and Rome City. The photos represent subjects Hohenberger was fond of recording with his camera: people, nature scenes, street scenes, log cabins, covered bridges, ferries, gristmills, railroad stations, trains, and buildings he thought picturesque or historically significant. Some of the photos demonstrate the gradual transition in the transportation from horse to automobile. A number of the buildings photographed have been razed. Some have been allowed to deteriorate, while others have been altered to meet current requirements. Many of the landscapes have been radically altered by the passing of years.
Much assistance in compiling this volume was received from staff members of the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington: Cheryl Baumgart, Rebecca Cape, Martha Etter, Lisa Killion, Heather Munro, and Saundra Taylor. Dorothy B. Bailey, archivist of the Brown County Historical Society, made many useful suggestions. Fred and Malinda King of Nashville, who were close friends of Hohenberger, shared their recollections of him and their knowledge of Brown County geography and people on numerous occasions. As customary, Esther S. Byrd edited and typed the preliminary manuscript.
Cecil K. Byrd