back to main story
Claude to Rufus Mallinson, May 20, 1932.
Claude to Rufus Mallinson, May 20, 1932.
Yukon Archives: 91/112 f. 4, MSS 365
Claude's writings on photography

Forty Mile , Yukon Terr. Canada .

May 20 th 1932 .

Mr. Rufus Mallinson:

In my recent letter written a few days ago, I promised to write again as soon as I had found time to go over your letter to me again, and to look over the other printed matter you so kindly sent to me. I see in one or two places that you have asked me a few questions, so I think the first thing to do is to see if I can reply, so – here goes.

You ask if my edition of your book is the first or the second. To be perfectly frank with you, I don't just remember off-hand which it is. You see, most of our personal belongings, our books, most of my photographic ‘plunder' is at present in storage in Dawson , as we came down here from D. last January only, and only to remain here temporarily. So you see I cannot refer to the book just now. However, I DO know this; I have had it for several years. I believe, if my memory does not play me false, that I sent to England for it long ago – though just where or when, that I cannot remember either. (Stupid of me isn't it?), b-b-but, p-p-please Sir, I'm afraid I do lots of stupid things! However, maybe the fact that I have had it a long time may help you.

With regard to the reproduction of your splendid picture ‘Look, Boys, One Hand!' here again, I'm not QUITE sure. But it seems that I have a sort of sneaking feeling that it was reproduced as a Frontispiece on AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHY some time ago. But mind, don't take my word for that either. I could tell in a few moments if I had my old copies to refer to – but then I haven't for the same reason that I have just mentioned.

Egad! I'm afraid that this is going to be SOME letter before I get finished, if I go on at this rate; but then you know that I ‘threatened' you in my last letter – so be prepared!

I gather from a few remarks you made, that you appear to be under the impression that I am likely to return ‘home' shortly. Do you know that I have been out here – in Canada – for – let's see – well, since 1910! How's that for a ‘stay”? I had ‘leave' for three months in 1929 – the first in fourteen years, by the way, and my wife and I visited her home in Pennsylvania, and planned to go on home to England after that, but I was recalled without being able to go. ‘Twas a bitter blow to my parents of course, and we too, were bitterly disappointed, but there was no help for it. Most tragic, wasn't it? So you see, my ‘home' is right here now – in the Yukon . But – I love it here and I have the feeling that the restraint of real civilization again would be extremely irksome to me after so long in the North, especially after living the life that I have lived – out in the wilderness so much. However, that chapter in my Northern life cannot be enlarged upon here and now.

Referring to yours again. I received a copy of The Passing Show, which I assume I can thank you for, so – Thanks! I cannot comment on it at present, because I really haven't given it more than a hasty ‘once over'. SNAPSHOTS didn't come, unfortunately! But – mail does sometimes get held over en route, so it will come eventually I expect. A few years ago, I subscribed to this, and I distinctly remember reading some of your work therein. Am I right? I know I shall enjoy it again. As I said before I enjoy anything photographic, and you can certainly rest assured that anything you send will be more than usually appreciated.

Now, let's see – What next? Oh Yes! I know.

I really think that I learnt more from your paper on Exposure than in anything I have ever read before. I hope, before so long, to be able to unearth some more of my equipment. I have a Dallan Tank amongst my heterogeneous collection; got it last year, but as I mentioned to you before, on account of having to come down here by dog-team during the winter when it was impossible to bring much stuff, I had to leave behind all but the absolute essentials and as a consequence, most of my photographic ‘linder' was left in Dawson in storage. I am rather more than usually anxious to use this tank as I do not as a rule have such good luck in tray development. I had quite a terrible time in my efforts at developing since I have been here. We have a cellar – well, it really ought not to be dignified by such a name, but we'll call it that anyway; its more like a hole in the kitchen floor with a lid on it! Well, as I say, we have a cellar, and you can take it from me, that I had SOME time down in this hole trying to keep my solutions up to the requisite temperature. My language was – but why bring that up! Let's talk about something pleasant; even the memory of it makes my hair bristle.

One of the questions you ask on your questionnaire (which by the way, I am enclosing herewith,) concerns ‘interests and hobbies'. I should like to mention this at somewhat greater length than the allotted space permits. I feel sure that you won't mind me doing this; it will at least give you a better idea as to what I have been doing recently. I will also send you with this a few samples of the work I have done along these lines; they are all contact prints because I do not, or rather, I have not had access to my enlarger since being down here at Forty Mile. You will see at once from the enclosed that I have taken up the study of Western Canadian birds. Now, I am perfectly well aware that they are nothing to write home about nor do I think the Arthur Newton pack, or William L. Finley or George Shiras or Martin Johnson would be VERY jealous if they saw this stuff of mine, but I'm a mere tyro you know (need I tell you this after you see my maiden efforts?). And another thing too, my equipment isn't all that could be wished for to carry on this special branch of photography. Now, I'll let you see these prints, but, just as soon as I get settled down in a home again, I want to try and make some enlargements of some of these. Now, of course, I don't know whether you can undertake to criticize these; maybe I'm asking too much. However, if you don't, no harm will be down anyway; maybe some good in so far as you will see just about the kind of stuff I can turn out – along ornithological lines at all events. I will see if I can send you a separate slip of paper relative to these particular pictures, giving brief information about each one.

You also ask what papers and periodicals I see regularly. To be perfectly candid, I see mighty few, or at least I have seen few during the past few years. Up till quite recently, I have been a regular subscriber to the following:- American Photo'y; Photo Era; Bird-Lore; Nature; (All American); Amateur Photo'y and Photo'y; (English) and Amateur Movies (American). There you are! You can see with half an eye, can't you, where my fancy lies. Oh yes, I forgot to mention the Canadian Field Naturalist published in Ottawa . Occasionally I see the Sketch, Lond. Illust. Tatler, and Bystander whenever I happen to get up to Dawson Barracks where they are received every month.

You ask me what plates I am using. Just at present I am trying out a Verichrome Film pack but to be perfectly candid with you, I have not yet settled down to using anything very regularly. In order that you may the more readily understand this statement, I ought to explain that I have not done very much photography during the past year owing to the fact that I had a spell of sickness that caused me lay off' all activities out of doors. I had an operation for toxic goiter last summer which necessitated a somewhat prolonged session in the hospital in Dawson , and after that a long trip out to Vancouver . I had, previous to this attack, laid in a stock of various films to make some experiments with; some Ilford Pan. Cut film, and a few Golden-Izo-Zenith, which I see you warned me against. Well, I haven't tried the latter yet so don't worry! I still have some of these films – not tried yet. (Films don't as a rule deteriorate up in these latitudes though on account I suppose of the dryness of the atmosphere; the cold does not appear to affect them adversely – or at least I have not yet discovered that it does.) The principle reason for my wishing to sample the G.I. Zenith film was on account of its speed. To give you a concrete example. The other day, I badly wanted to photograph a male Ruffed Grouse in the act of ‘drumming'. This was, I believe, a most unusual sight, or it was this to me at any rate. I had never seen it before. And the morning I got the long-looked-for opportunity, the light was abominable. No matter how many times I consulted my JUSTOPHOT I could get nothing better than 1/25 at f5.6 and my Dallan 2x lens only gives me f6.5, so I had to use the 5 1/4 inch Zeiss wide open. Fortunatel, a later opportunity arose when I WAS able to use the 2x. But here you see would have been an excellent opportunity to secure what must have been an unusual negative if only I had had a film that would have been fast enough. The opportunity might not have presented itself again, and consequently, I should have missed it entirely. However, ‘all's well etc' and I did get what I wanted after all. Personally, I think the fast film will come in useful sometime, altho' I suppose much care is needed in handling it. I use Ilford Desensitiser for the Pan film, and may try it for the fast film too. However, I'm but a poor amateur anyway just trying to feel my way, as it were. I really prefer film packs to the cut-film I think, and have had very little experience with plate at any time. I think the Verichrome ought to be good though. I'll let you know what luck I have with it.

There now, I think that dismisses for the time being, the question of film.

I have a Justophot which I use considerably. Also a Burroughs and Wellcome Diary with its Calculator.

I think I have already told you that I was to be moved this summer. Well, I am. But, unfortunately, NOT, to the Northern Post that I had hoped for. Nunno! Sorry, but I wish the ‘powers-that-be' had not changed their mind – which they evidently have done. No, the orders at the time of going to press are that I am to be transferred to a place called MAYO. This is a more important Post but whether it will be as interesting – from a photographic point of view, I am not sure. This particular district is one of the few parts of the Yukon Territory with which I am not familiar, so it will at least have the advantage of being new and fresh to me. One of the posts which I shall have occasion to visit, I imagine, is called KENO. This latter is a mining camp – silver mining. How long it will remain in operation I cannot say – if the price of silver continues its downward flight. There may be possibilities here perhaps. I can probably give you more ‘dope' on the country after I get up there. Mail arrives about once in two weeks I imagine, so you see we shall be quite civilized, but more of this anon. This latter fact will have its advantages tho'. It will at least give me the chance of hearing from you oftener which in itself will be no small advantage, and besides, look at the fun I shall have writing to you too. ‘Aint that worth something? I'll say it is! And this brings us to the matter of the lessons. (Oh yes! I'm going to take your Special Course – of course! (Ahem! How often will I take the lessons? Well, let's see. I have the feeling that it would be best for me to have you send them to me once a month. Yes, please send the News Sheets; I shall most certainly enjoy reading them tremendously. But listen! I can't possibly turn out any work until I get some semblance of order in my affairs. Please remember that I have no equipment here at Forty Mile at present. And in addition, I am expecting to have to move – some time before so long, date uncertain, and if you have experienced that doubtful pleasure, you will certainly know what that means. I mention this specially, because you say in your letter to me'…and a dead certainty in your particular case of your receiving your fee back in a very short time providing you send pictures and letterpress soon' And if I don't send it soon, what then? Ah, well, never mind, I think I know what you mean, and I am certainly glad to know that you feel so optimistic as regards my getting my money back as it were. It might not, perhaps, be always easy for me to send in seasonal pictures because you see, by the time you would let me know what you wanted me to do (supposing I didn't have brains enough to know without being told) and by the time I could get them back to you, the special call for such pictures might be over. What? However, mebbe [maybe] I'll get ‘on to it' soon.

About my enlarger, I have a Little Salex Junior, purchased in London a couple of years ago. Probably you know this apparatus well without me entering into any detailed description of it, but a brief word or two won't hurt I suppose. It is a horizontal model with condensers and a lens of –(doggone it, I've just forgotten the name of it!) However, it has an aperture of f6.8. Nothing elaborate about it, but it is O.K. just the same. Haven't done much with it so far, but have had some good luck with it. Only drawback to it is the fact that it burns carbide, and the blamed stuff stinks to high heaven, and – tell it not in Gath – I'm afraid of it; it might bust up – or sump'n! The generator is an ENSIGN product, and really isn't so bad after all; has a four-jet burner and gives a good white light. Mebbe I'll get electric light up at Mayo – I dunno. Let's hope so! A great trouble with me has been – almost total lack of an efficient place in which to work, and this business of having to use the kitchen wash-basin, or my wife's favourite soup-plate for a developing-dish doesn't always tend to promote domestic harmony, does it? However, if the fates are good to me, perhaps I may be able to fix up some sort of a room before so long; I do most earnestly hope that it may be so.

You ask if I have a stock of negatives already. Well, yes, I have about a hundred or so. I'm rather inclined to think, tho' slip-shod manner, as is usual perhaps with most of us who have no very definite end in view. Up till two or three years ago perhaps, most of my films were exposed mainly for the purpose of getting souvenir pictures, and were taken principally with an old 3a Kodak – the favorite stand-by of the average amateur on this side of the water. Whether any of them may prove to be useful (I dare not say ‘valuable') remains to be seen. Many of them are now in Dawson and will not be available for use for a few months anyway, not until I get settled again.

Now – I feel that I ought to call a halt – or you certainly will get a surfeit of my jabberings even before I really make a start with you, but you know, when I get started with some-one who I know is really interested in the things that interest me, I just don't know when to ring off. And at all events, life out here is something different to the life you lead. I do want you to know, that I am tremendously interested in your letter, your Prospectus, and all the other printed matter you sent and I really do feel that I shall ENJOY working under your guidance, and with your help. Naturally, I shall feel eager to re-imburse [sic] myself for the cost of the Course – naturally enough; - who is there among us that wouldn't? – but if I can only learn the secret that is so valuable to the aspiring journalistic photographer, of being able to SEE a valuable and a good picture, then I shall feel that my – and your – efforts have not been in vain. It is my most sincere wish that our business dealings – our getting together as it were – may be to our mutual benefit…Mr Mallinson – Sir, again – Thank-you!

Very sincerely yours,

back to main story