Capturing the history of photography played out in North Dakota.
Growing up on a farm in rural North Dakota, Elmer O. Thompson (1891-1984) developed his creative impulses with photography, educating himself in matters of staging, lighting, and processing. Mr. Thompson quickly became an expert in the use of his 5 x 7 camera. His early photos show the development of a talent that would lead him first to the State Normal and Industrial School in Ellendale, ND, where he served as the official school photographer. He went on to earn an electrical engineering degree at the University of California, served in the Signal Corps in Paris in WWI, and then moved to the center of technological innovation in New York City.
Mr. Thompson earned the first six of his ultimate thirty patents at the AT&T Headquarters in New York City. From there he moved to RCA Victor, then spent several decades at Philco, where he earned two dozen more patents, including the first wireless radio remote control (Philco’s “Mystery Control”) and a phonograph that transferred the signal from record to the amplifier by means of an optical sensor (the “Beam of Light” system).
Mr. Thompson’s progress—from the prairies of North Dakota to New York City, the technological heartland of the early radio and television age—illustrates the marriage of artistic vision with technological innovation. This exhibition delineates his life as a photographer with large framed prints of his photographs, many of which were taken in and around Ellendale and near his home in Cavalier County. These include individual portraits, landscapes, buildings, scenes of farm life such as haying, harvesting, and blacksmithing, and musical and military performances. He often staged trick settings for his 5 x 7 camera as he taught himself the rudiments of photography. He believed that having control, not only of the lens, shutter and chemicals, but of the source and volume of light, underlies creativity. Even devotees of palette and brush must acknowledge, if his results are pictorial, that he is an artist, not a ‘mere copyist. It is here that science and art intertwine.