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Richard J. Arnold was born on June 28, 1856 in England and died in Monterey, California on May 19, 1929.

In addition to San Luis Obispo, Mr. Arnold had photographic studios in several areas of central California, including Monterey, Santa Barbara and Alameda.  

Arnold’s most significant contribution to early California photography was his choice to photograph all sorts of people, not limiting his subjects to paying clients. While most commercial photographers at the time photographed the wealthy and elite on commission, Arnold did not limit the diversity of his subjects based on their financial means. He created one of the largest and earliest portraits of the early Latino community in California. While he took commissions and ran a successful studio, he was endlessly drawn to all types of people and his body of work presents a prescient vision of California’s cultural diversity. What also makes his photographs so important and timeless is the empathy with which he connects to his sitters. There is an openness in their gaze and an ease in their gesture.

Pat Hathaway Collection | 

Arnold's glass plates

Arnold's work with glass-plate photography, invented in 1851, utilized an advance in technology at the time.  A light-sensitive gelatin emulsion was fixed onto a 8-by-10-inch glass plate and allowed to dry before exposure.  The glass sheet could be cut in halves and quarters to make a number of prints in many sizes.  Factory-made gelatin dry plates were widely available by 1881, allowing the photographer to capture images in the field and to store them for months after.  


In the studio, Arnold's subjects were often posed with elaborate backdrops and period clothing.  Props were sometimes used which help place who these people were and how they lived.  Many of the plates  were marked with names.  Mr. Arnold also took photographs out in the county's landscape which make his photographs most unique.

The original prints that Arnold produced during his lifetime would have been cropped into the traditional Victorian oval, which was highly favored at the time and tended to focus on faces and torsos. In the exhibition at the Paso Robles History Museum, the full plates have been printed, revealing the surprises and details of Arnold’s photographic process and giving the viewer a glimpse into his studio. 


Glass Plates In Memory of Randal Gene Young


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