Cabinet card studio portrait of a young Chinese scholar. J.P. Ball & Son: Helena, Montana, n.d., circa 1888. 129 Broadway and 211 North Main St. imprint on recto. The young man is seated wearing Manchu-style clothing popular in the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911): a silk brocade tangzhuang jacket and pants, embroidered shoes, and a close-fitting cap. He holds a scroll and stacks of books, and scholar's objects are neatly arranged on the table next to him. The table arrangement is very similar to the arrangement, including the hanging tassel and stacked books, visible in a portrait of a Chinese man identified as "Joe," a cook for the wealthy Ming family of Helena (Willis, Deborah, ed. J.P. Ball: Daguerrean and Studio Photographer, 4.42). It is possible that the young subject here is a member of the Ming family or in their employ.
James Presley Ball (1825-1904) is one of the most renowned African American photographers at one point owning the largest photographic gallery west of the Appalachians. When visiting White Sulphur Springs, Virginia in 1845 he met John B. Bailey, an African American daguerreotypist from Boston where he acquired the passion and skill of photography. He opened a studio in Cincinnati later that year, and though it was unsuccessful, he continued his art with studios in Pittsburgh and Richmond and traveled as an itinerant daguerreotypist. In 1849, he reopened a studio in Cincinnati. He hired his younger brother Thomas Ball to work as an operator, and in 1852 hired his future brother-in-law Alexander Thomas to work with him. By 1857, their gallery was one of the grandest in the United States attracting notables including Frederick Douglass. In 1887 Ball was chosen as the official photographer of a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation held in Minneapolis-St.Paul. In 1888, he moved to Helena, Montana with his son where he operated a studio for several years before moving again in 1892 to Seattle.
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