James Presley Ball

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Photograph of Ball (photographer and date unknown)

James Presley Ball, Sr. (1825 – May 4, 1904) was a prominent African-American photographer, abolitionist, and businessman.[1][2]


Ball was born in Frederick County, Virginia to William and Susan Ball in 1825.[3] He learned daguerreotype photography from John B. Bailey of Boston, who like Ball was "a freeman of color."[4] Ball opened a one-room daguerreotype studio in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1845.[1] The business did not prosper, so Ball worked as an itinerant daguerreotypist, settling briefly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then in Richmond, Virginia in 1846 to develop a more successful studio near the State Capitol building.[1]

In 1847, Ball again departed for Ohio, again as a traveling daguerreotypist.[1] He settled in Cincinnati in 1849 and opened a studio where his brother Thomas Ball became an operator.[1][3] The gallery, known as "Ball's Daguerrean Gallery of the West" or "Ball's Great Daguerrean Gallery of the West," ascended "from a small gallery to one of the great galleries of the Midwest."[1] Starting in 1854 and continuing "for about four years," Robert Seldon Duncanson worked in Ball's studio retouching portraits and coloring photographic prints.[5] Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion in 1854 described the gallery as displaying 187 photographs by Ball and 6 paintings by Duncanson;[6] furthermore, the gallery was "replete with elegance and beauty," with walls "bordered with gold leaf and flowers," "master-piece" furniture, a piano, and mirrors.[4]

Meanwhile, Ball opened the separate Ball and Thomas Gallery with his brother-in-law Alexander Thomas.[3] In 1855, Ball published an abolitionist pamphlet accompanied by a 600-yard-long panoramic painting entitled "Mammoth Pictorial Tour of the United States Comprising Views of the African Slave Trade"; Duncanson probably participated in the production of the painting.[1][4][5] During 1855 Ball’s daguerreotypes were shown at the Ohio State Fair and at the Ohio Mechanics Annual Exhibition.[3] In 1856 Ball traveled to Europe.[1] The Ball and Thomas Gallery was destroyed by a tornado in May 1860, but was later rebuilt with assistance from the community.[3]

During the 1870s Ball ended his partnership with Thomas and moved to Greenville, Mississippi; Vidalia, Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri; and then Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he started a new studio.[3][7] By 1887, the studio was known as "J. P. Ball & Son, Artistic Photographers"; Ball's son was named James Presley Ball, Jr.[1] In September 1887, Ball became the official photographer of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation.[1]

In October 1887, Ball again moved, this time to Helena, Montana where the "J. P. Ball & Son" studio was established.[1] By 1894, Ball had become active in politics in Helena; for example, he was nominated for a county coroner position which he declined.[1] One of the notable series of photographs Ball took his stay in Helena involved William Biggerstaff (an African-American man) before, during, and after he was hanged in 1896 for committing murder.[8][9]

In 1900, the Ball family probably moved to Seattle, Washington, where Ball opened the Globe Photo Studio.[1] He may have relocated to Portland, Oregon in 1901.[6] The family moved to Honolulu in 1902, and Ball died there in 1904.[2] l



  • Ball, James Presley. Ball's splendid mammoth pictorial tour of the United States. Comprising views of the African slave trade; of Northern and Southern cities; of cotton and sugar plantations; of the Mississippi, Ohio and Susquehanna Rivers, Niagara Falls, &C. Compiled for the panorama. Cincinnati: Achilles Pugh, 1855.


Among the subjects of Ball's photographic portraits were P.T. Barnum, Charles Dickens, Henry Highland Garnet, the family of Ulysses S. Grant, Jenny Lind, and Queen Victoria.[1][3][7] The techniques used for "all the known photographs of J. P. Ball" as of 1993 included mostly daguerreotypes and albumen prints (e.g., as carte de visites).[1] In 1992, Swann Galleries sold an 1851 daguerreotype by Ball of three storefronts in Cincinnati for $63,800, which set a world record at the time for highest price paid for a daguerreotype at auction.[10]

Ball's photographic work is held by, among other institutions:[1][11] Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati Historical Society, George Eastman House, Library of Congress, Montana Historical Society, Ohio State University, and University of Washington.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Willis, Deborah, ed. (1993). J. P. Ball, Daguerrean and Studio Photographer. New York & London: Garland. ISBN 0-8153-0716-0. 
  2. ^ a b Mendheim, Beverly (September 2007). "Lost and Found: Alice Augusta Ball, an Extraordinary Woman of Hawai`i Nei". Northwest Hawai`i Times. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Stover, Stephanie Ferrell (February 26, 2007). "Black History Month: Noted Black Photographer James Presley Ball Recognized in Greenbrier Historical Society Archives". Huntington News. Retrieved August 14, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Hales, Peter B. (2005). Silver Cities: Photographing American Urbanization, 1839-1939, revised and expanded ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 111–116. ISBN 0-8263-3178-5. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b Ketner, Joseph D (1993). The Emergence of the African-American Artist: Robert S. Duncanson, 1821-1872. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. pp. 101–104. ISBN 0-8262-0880-0. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b Weidman, Jeffrey; Haverstock, Mary Sayre; Vance, Jeannette Mahoney; Meggitt, Brian L. (2000). Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: a Biographical Dictionary. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. pp. 41–42. ISBN 0-87338-616-7. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  7. ^ a b "Leininger-Miller Researches Local Historical Photographer". University of Cincinnati. Retrieved August 14, 2009. 
  8. ^ Boxer, Sarah (November 9, 2001). "Photography Review; Black Photographers Who are Trying to Get Blackness Right". New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  9. ^ Amacker, Kristy. "Representing Death". American Studies at the University of Virginia. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  10. ^ "A Daguerreotype Brings $63,800". Deseret News. April 15, 1992. 
  11. ^ "America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1862". Library of Congress. Retrieved August 14, 2009. 

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