The Woman Behind The Lens

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photo by Maud Baldwin

written by Kimberly Bowker


Maud draped the soft, dark cloth over her head that blocked out the rest of the world. Her eyes focused on the reflected scene, flipped upside down to be exposed onto the glass plate negative. She saw the aspen leaves shiver in the breeze, and she saw the woman’s fingers ply tulle reeds into a basket on her lap. The woman in the frame looked straight into the lens. The shutter opened—just once. Life would never be the same again.

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photo by Maud Baldwin

It was a different era that Maud Baldwin lived in. She bore witness to the turning of a new century—the altering of traditions, the laying of iron tracks on the earth and the catapulting of airplanes into the sky, and the end of many previous beginnings. She recorded this reality with her cameras, capturing around 2,000 photographs of Southern Oregon before her dramatic death at age 47 in 1926.

Baldwin created the world not just by what she saw, but how she saw it. Her images translate timelessness, echoed in the eyes of children and in the ripples of the water, while simultaneously documenting a world now past. She lived the extremes during a period of transition—as a woman who owned a business when few women did, as a photographer who ventured into places beyond social expectation and as a devoted daughter who never married. A compelling historical figure behind the lens, Baldwin offered meaning through her images within the darkness and illumination of light.

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photo by Maud Baldwin

Born on August 8, 1878 in Linkville, now Klamath Falls, Maud Evangeline Baldwin died just a handful of decades later in the same city. She was born the year that Thomas Edison patented the phonograph, and in the decade when some wagons still attempted the hazards of the Oregon Trail. Baldwin’s grandfather emigrated from England in the 1830s, carrying a ticket bearing an image of a vessel taut with canvas sails. Forty years later, the Baldwins moved to Southern Oregon, eventually settling in the town named after the Link River, where Maud’s body would one day be found.

George Baldwin and Josephine Nail, Baldwin’s parents, married in 1875. Maud was the only girl among three brothers.Her fourth and elder brother died as a toddler. Like any brothers might, the boys occasionally teased their sister. While she washed dishes, her brothers would sometimes stealthily tuck clean plates back into the dirty pile for her to scrub once more.

As the oldest surviving child and only daughter, she shared a close relationship with her father. George Baldwin evolved into a figurehead of the Klamath Falls community, acting as state senator (he won by one vote in 1916), county judge, leader of various associations, entrepreneur, and advocate of transportation, electricity and improved technologies. In 1895, George was described in a Klamath Falls Express  newspaper article as a man who was “universally respected and enjoys an enviable reputation as a businessman. He is public-spirited, generous and of agreeable disposition.”

Such qualities his daughter likely inherited, too.

“He was absolutely the greatest guy she ever knew—her dad—and he was supportive of her work and art interest,” said author and historian Harry Drew, director of the Klamath County Museum from 1972 to 1982, who is working on a second publication about Baldwin.

George, as a prominent businessman and caring father, likely encouraged his daughter to continue her education. In 1894, Baldwin attended the Oregon State Normal School in Monmouth at the age of 16. It was a common progression for women at the time to become trained as school teachers at Normal Schools, which established the “norm” for education. It was not the path, though, that Baldwin continued to carve for herself.

After a year at the Normal School, she returned to Klamath Falls, where she discovered and cultivated an interest in photography. Little is known about what spurred her entry into the burgeoning industry, but the direction guided her to become an artist and, eventually, a historian.

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photo by Maud Baldwin

Turn-of-the-century photographers such as Baldwin envisioned the world during a time when Paul Cézanne painted emotion with color, and the Expressionists used brush strokes as symbolism to portray feelings. Alfred Stieglitz, a New York photographer of the same generation, helped to establish photography as an art form.

While the medium was mostly a male endeavor in the nineteenth century, there were women involved in the industry. George Eastman targeted potential female photographers with his Kodak camera that hit the market in 1888. The instrument used film that could conveniently be sent away for development and replacement. By 1910, the United States Census documented the number of the country’s female photographers as having risen to fifteen percent. Baldwin was one such female pioneer photographer, venturing into Southern Oregon landscapes to record the native Klamath and Modoc tribes, loggers, farmers, the streets of Klamath Falls, railroads, recreation on the lake, and all that might happen in any given day.

“It was just unheard of for a woman to do it in those days, and it was just amazing that she did,” Mary C. Smothers said about Baldwin’s versatility as a photographer in the field. Smothers co-published a book, Maud & Mary: A Century of Change, in which the modern-day photographer captured twenty-first-century comparisons of Baldwin’s photos. “It was the fact that she was so unique and willing to put [in] so much effort to get a particular picture—she worked hard at it,” said Smothers.

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photo by Maud Baldwin

Baldwin traipsed through the forest with the loggers and would sit on the ground in her long skirts with native people. She was an open, honest, sincere woman, according to Drew. Social constraints did not inhibit her. Ultimately, those moments of beauty, strength and vulnerability are imprinted in her images.

Under a mid-summer sun in the late 1890s, Baldwin ventured to Crater Lake and Pelican Bay, in her early 20s, with a group of friends. She likely hauled her view camera with her, and a tripod to steady the apparatus. In her bags would be glass negatives, thick and fragile. The traveling party would have camped along the lake, since the lodge was not yet built, and the lake was not yet a national park. Baldwin would have climbed over the rocks near the edge, her slender fingers assembling the camera, to capture the prehistoric skyline.

“It was part of her,” Drew said about Baldwin’s connection to photography. “She didn’t just compose shots. Why did she take a three-day trip with pack burros to Crater Lake? There would be no way she could ever know that she was probably the first woman to do that. She was the lady who could sit at a fine dinner and who was also comfortable tramping through the forest with burros and equipment, dirty and dusty and sweaty and to some degree in a dangerous situation. It was a burning thing in Baldwin to leave a trail of her life, and that is what she was doing. This was deliberate—she was very aware these things would be passed away and never seen again.”

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photo by Maud Baldwin

In 1902, Baldwin opened a studio and darkroom above her father’s hardware store, an industry in which George owned businesses starting in 1881. Within a few years, advertisements began to appear in the local evening newspaper, boasting “Crater Lake pictures now on sale at the Baldwin Photo Studio” and “Your choice of views Crater Lake Pelican Bay Klamath Falls and dozens of others.” The advertisements invited readers to “call at Baldwin’s Studio,” where they could purchase wood calendars (“the latest fad for 1904”), “photo pillows,” “fabric photography,” and local scenes from the “Switzerland of America.”

Baldwin pursued her photographic education at California College of Photography in Palo Alto, California, as part of the 1905 class. In a short piece she authored for The Photographic Student, a college publication, Baldwin shared that child portraiture served her hobby as a photographer. Children were often drawn to her.

When a mother and child would enter the studio, Baldwin, with her thick dark hair gathered into a loose bun, would first inquire of the photographic style desired by the mother. She would then hand the parent some reading material and instruct her to sit in an easy chair. “… Then with the child I proceed to the operating room. Here we get acquainted, I gain his confidence and we become friends. The rest is easy … be a child with him for the time being.” With a cable release, Baldwin would take the photograph, catching the child in a moment of unscripted truth.

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photo by Maud Baldwin

On July 3, 1905, upon her return from California, Baldwin held a grand opening at her studio. More than one hundred people attended the event, and the newspaper reported that “she is recognized as one of the best new artists in the state.” She balanced life as an artist and a businesswoman. This balance was also evident in the operations of her millinery shop, in which she designed custom hats.

Baldwin was a social woman who was actively involved in the community. She chaperoned camping trips for the Camp Fire Girls and choreographed numerous gatherings for the many clubs that she belonged to, such as the Order of the Eastern Star and various card game clubs. In 1907, she presented the guests of one such 500 Club with score and partner cards that were “photographs of Klamath scenery and other interesting objects.” Both analytical and creative, Baldwin co-hosted a progressive New Year’s Eve party in which an imaginary train took passengers on an “excursion from the old year 1907 to the New Year 1908.”

She continued to travel and document local landmark events. In 1907 and 1908, as she turned 30, the newspaper often printed of her travels “securing views” of lava beds, mountain tops and lakes. She photographed an historic day in 1909 when 1,200 people gathered at the depot as the railroad first came to Klamath Falls. She recorded the changes in transportation—from horses and dugout canoes, to white steamships on the lake, to automobiles and airplanes.

Through the years, her father’s business empire continued to expand and, in 1905, George started building a four-and-a-halfstory building. It was constructed from Klamath County brick that cost between $15,000 and $20,000, and looked across from Lake Ewauna and the Link River. The “third most important building being constructed in this city,” and the “largest building in Klamath Falls” had a hardware store and space open for businesses two years later, according to the local newspaper.

On the top story of the brick Baldwin building, perched high above the trees, Baldwin set up her final studio and darkroom.The sunlight filtered through the long windows and onto the patterned linoleum floor, as she took portraits of people and children in front of painted backdrops. Shelves in the narrow and adjacent darkroom likely stored photographic processing chemicals that she handled most of her life. A small square window could be opened for possible limited ventilation into the hallway. A long sink probably held space for the scenes to develop into shades of black, white and the in-between greys. Baldwin would have stood over them, perhaps solitary, yet feeling the whole world appear in a moment.

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photo by Susanna Risser

Here, she intimately recreated her visions. In 1911, the family building of approximately fifty rooms was remodeled as a grand hotel. It is said Baldwin would have orchestras play on the mezzanine, as people danced in the lobby below. In 1968, the hotel was named a state historic site, and a decade later it converted into a museum.

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photo by Susanna Risser

Today, visitors of the Baldwin Hotel Museum might notice the taxidermy deer heads on the wall that George and his sons hunted, or the original sweetheart desks positioned on the lobby carpet made to replicate the original floor pattern. Tours are available through the hotel, and guides may take guests to Baldwin’s studio, or to the café where place settings of simple white and blue Adderley’s fine bone china from England line the room. The china settings, which she supposedly never used, were said to have been found in Baldwin’s hope chest.

Maud Baldwin never married, and perhaps never unpacked the items that had been stored away. She lived through World War I, the beginning of Prohibition and women’s suffrage. Then, rather suddenly, everything in her personal life changed.

Her mother fell ill, possibly from a stroke, and she required constant care. Then George Baldwin, the beloved father, died on June 3, 1920 from a persistent liver condition.

Undoubtedly, Baldwin deeply mourned the passing of her father. She was a 41-yearold single woman, who now cared for a bedridden mother and managed the affairs of the Baldwin Hotel. She cast decisions of consequential importance, and also of the detailed variety, such as ordering a pint of milk almost every day, and then paying the bill.

In 1923, the hotel was sold to Mr. and Mrs. A.B. Moore. That same year, it is rumored, Baldwin fell in love. In her mid-40s, the woman with no record of romance met a man—Gene Campbell, chef at the Little Grit Café. According to stories from those who once knew her, Campbell informed her that he planned to move to Alaska and prospect for gold. As legend has it, he invited Baldwin, but she declined due to her duties at home.

On May 22, 1926, residents who subscribed to Klamath Falls’ 5-cent The Evening Herald received startling news as they unfolded the large newsprint and scanned the headlines: “Despondent Local Woman Drowns Self in River.”

Baldwin’s body was found “in a house frock” floating by the Link River Bridge earlier that day, near where the swirling waters met Lake Ewauna. She died in the same place as her birth, and in the waters of a familiar view.

“Culminating a life of unselfish devotion for those she loved and believing the strain she was under would cause her to lose her mind, Miss Maud E. Baldwin, 47, prominent resident of Klamath Falls, drowned herself in Link River after eight o’clock last night,” reported the headlining article. In a note left to Mrs. Katherine Wright, housekeeper, Baldwin wrote “Mrs. Wright, I am going insane and I cannot stand it. You will find me in the lake, Maud.” She left behind roughly 300 dollars worth of worldly goods, including some land and one 1920 Buick Coupe.

A funeral was held for Baldwin on a Tuesday afternoon, as city merchants ceased commerce for two hours in honor of the photographer, the daughter, the sister, the business owner, the friend and the role model. The newspaper records that Baldwin received “impressive” services from the Eastern Star lodge, and that her body was taken to the family plot. Other lore and records suggest that she was buried on the outskirts of the Linkville Pioneer Cemetery, due to the stigmatized nature of her death, and that her body reinterred in the family plot soon after World War II to lay at rest with her father, mother, grandparents and brother.

Some residents and visitors today place flowers at her gravesite in the quiet cemetery, giving tribute and remembering her story. “She was such a prominent member of the Klamath community,” said Niles Reynolds, curator at the Klamath County Museum. “And even though her story ended tragically, she contributed so much to our community while she was alive. After her death we continue to benefit from her work as a photographer and business owner and community member.”

In an early picture of Baldwin’s primary class, the young girl stood in front of the schoolhouse at the end of the line. She was shorter than the other girls, her hand clutching her simple plaid dress, her hair up and swept to the side with her forehead slightly furrowed and mouth unsmiling. Her eyes focused unwaveringly at the camera.

4 Comments

  • This article is a wonderful read. We moved to Oregon three years ago and find stories like this help us learn more of the history of this beautiful state. We’ll remember Miss Baldwin whenever we visit Klamath Falls.

  • Thank you for capturing more of Maud's accomplishment than other articles I have read. As a relative researching my family roots in Klamath Falls, your article gave some insight to some family traits that we could not place with any one family member (Maud is a great great aunt).

  • I work in her was once beautiful Victorian home. It is an honor. She visits us once in a while with her fascination of stopping the clocks from working. She was a beautiful, intelligent, prominent, creative woman. I love her photographic artwork. I would have like to have known her!

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