Lost and Found
The photography of James Bradford Schuyler
1856 - 1922
This section is still a work in progress
In 2002, I had the privilege of restoring the 19th century glass plate photographs taken by James Bradford Schuyler......
To fully appreciate the photographic work of James Bradford Schuyler, it is important to know the artist's unusual background. James Schuyler was the grandson of Captain Samuel Schuyler, founder of the Schuyler Towboat Line, one of the biggest and most influential towboat companies along the Hudson River in the 19th century when the waterway and its link to the Erie Canal made it the gateway to the West. Among Samuel's Schuyler's achievements are innovations in dry steam turbine engines, particularly those in steamships. Samuel Schuyler's innovations and his entrepreneurial skills are remarkable in of themselves, but even more so when one considers he accomplished them as a "free person of color" in what was largely an environment of racial prejudice.
James Bradford Schuyler was not an inventor like his grandfather, but with his brother Thomas, he continued his family's shipping business along the Hudson between New York City and Albany until the expansion of the cheaper and faster railway system rendered it obsolete. James was a social playboy. The Albany newspapers of the 1880s frequently describe the splendid and lavish parties he hosted at his estate on South Pearl Street. An outstanding marksman, James competed state wide as a member of the Rensselaer Third Division Rifle Association and often won. He was a skilled horseman and is said to have owned the fastest horse in the entire Capital region of Upstate New York. His other passion was photography.
Only three dozen original photographs taken by James Schuyler are known to exist. All of these images are glass plate positives with damaged emulsions due to mold, scratching, melting and light fading. The collection belongs to Susan Schuyler and her son Mark Bomba, and was passed down through three generations of Schuylers. For several decades the images were kept in storage in an attic, their importance not fully understood. In 2001, Susan Schuyler revisited her great grandfather's photographs and a concentrated effort to preserve the rare works began. The fragile glass plate images were dried, their mold delicately cleared, and they were scanned and archived. The fourteen photographs featured in the Lost and Found series here presented are the best preserved of the collection.
Little is known of James Schuyler's photographic practice. There is not even a record of what photographic equipment he used. What is is known however, is that for at least several years he was a member of the Albany Camera Club and his "water views" were praised by fellow members and the Albany press. On at least one trip to Europe, he took pictures of Paris, London, and a sight or two of the Rhine River. Mostly, he photographed the Hudson and the ships of the Schuyler Tow Line. James Bradford Schuyler remains an enigma and that perhaps is part of the charm of his lost and rediscovered photographs.