From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Life Pictures by William B. Dyer

Illustrations for the poems in Riley Love-Lyrics




Over four dozen "Life Pictures" by William B. Dyer (1860–1931) illustrate the book, Riley Love-Lyrics. For this post, I've scanned nine of the Life Pictures of women, but men, children, nature, and still life are also represented in the book's images.

Riley Love-Lyrics, a book of love poems by James Whitcomb Riley, was first published in 1883. My copy of the book is the 1905 edition. I don't know if early editions of the book included the Life Pictures, but I don't think so. William B. Dyer would have been only 23 years old in 1883.


By the turn of the century, cameras and film had advanced enough that photographs could be natural, casual, and expressive, rather than contrived and stiff as in the past. The Life Pictures are experiments with photography as an art form.

I had a hard time finding much information about William B. Dyer. The following paragraphs piece together many scraps of information that I gleaned from more hours of search than I should have invested!

Dyer was a native of Racine, Wisconsin. He moved to Chicago in 1894 at the age of 34, and he worked there for 10 years. Like James Whitcomb Riley, he was a Midwesterner. I don't have any other information about how he spent his life, except that he was a pioneer of modern photography.

I found the following few phrases of information about William B. Dyer in an antique book seller's description of Riley Love-Lyrics. These exact words are repeated on many book-selling websites:

William B. Dyer became a professional photographer in 1897. His first and only solo illustrated book was the above title [Riley Love Lyrics]. He was elected a member of The Linked Ring, championed by Clarence White to Alfred Stieglitz and published in Camera Notes and Camera Work.

Source: Book description on cahanbooks.com



On the Internet, Dyer's name often appears in association with Alfred Stieglitz who was (among other things) the editor of Camera Works. a journal published from 1903-1917. The journal brought publicity and respect for the photographs of Steiglitz and other early photographers whom he admired and published.

Stieglitz published two of Dyer's photos in Camera Works and at least one photo in Camera Notes. The Stieglitz papers include correspondence with Dyer. I am unable to determine the extent of their acquaintance with each other.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) included a chapter about William B. Dyer in their 1978 catalog , The Collection of Alfred Steiglitz: Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography. This book is a catalog of the museum's collection and a reference volume about early photography.

If you have access to JSTOR (perhaps through your library,) I believe another article about Dyer is available there.


The Princeton University Art Museum owns a collection of Dyer photographs. I found only three examples of Dyer's photographs online, so this post will quadruple that number. Bear in mind that these are scans of pages printed over 100 years ago -- the original photographs probably didn't have the sepia tones.


Related post: James Whitcomb Riley and Me

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.