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George E. Stone photographs of architecture, fine arts and decorative arts, 1916-1992

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Finding aid for the George E. Stone Photographs of Architecture, Fine Arts and Decorative Arts, 1916-1992

Biographical/Historical Note

George Eathl Stone was a documentary filmmaker, photographer, zoologist and educator. Stone was born February 22, 1889 in Annandale, Minnesota, but by 1900 the family had moved to the Los Angeles area. Stone's interest in photography developed early and he purchased his first camera while still a teenager.

Stone enjoyed an extended undergraduate career at the University of California, Berkeley, completing his B.A. in the sciences in 1916. His studies at the university were marked by frequent breaks. He worked for the Zoology Department in various capacities; traveled in Central and South America; spent the 1913/1914 academic year in New York working as a microscope salesman for Leitz; worked at the Laboratory of Scientific Photography at Berkeley; and married May Gray, whose family resources allowed Stone to build his own studio/laboratory in Berkeley late in 1914. During these years, all of Stone's interests - natural science, photography, microscopy - came together, and by his graduation in 1916 he had completed a four-reel film, How Life Begins. One of the first educational science films made in this country, the documentary was noteworthy for being both scientifically accurate and aesthetically pleasing, as well as having been made primarily using a process and apparatus of Stone's invention.

The film brought Stone to the attention of Prizma, Inc., a pioneering company in the use of color in motion pictures. In 1916, Stone went to work for Prizma applying their color process to nature and scientific films. His work for Prizma was soon interrupted by his World War I military service as a photographer for the Army Signal Corps, first in France, and then in Germany after the armistice. Stone returned to work for Prizma late in 1919 and spent the following years creating color motion picture films and managing Prizma's laboratory in Hollywood. Stone created numerous documentaries for Prizma, including A Day with John Burroughs (1919), a look at the life of the noted naturalist; Hagopian the Rugmaker (1920), the story of an itinerant Armenian craftsman; The Living World (1920), the sequel to How Life Begins; and The Sunshine Gatherers (1921), essentially a Del Monte advertisement in the guise of tracing the history of California. The Prizma process proved too expensive to compete with other emerging color technologies, and in 1923 Stone was let go.

Stone promptly moved on to other photographic ventures, shifting his focus from motion pictures to still photography. Stone spent most of the 1920s as a commercial photographer, specializing in nature photography. In this period, the Stones moved to Carmel, where again Stone was able to build a private laboratory/studio. He pursued his scientific and zoological interests by serving from November 1923 to January 1924 as photographer on G. Allan Hancock's expedition to the Galapagos Islands. On a more mundane level, Stone was hired to supply photographs for commercial clients, including the images for a guide to Mount Whitney in 1925 and a Yosemite travel booklet for the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1926. Stone was also independently selling his work, especially as stereographs.

In 1927 Stone was one of the founders, and then served as director, of Visual Education Service, Inc., which promoted the use of visual materials in education and served as an image stockhouse. By 1929, however, Visual Education Service was experiencing financial difficulties. Stone's catalogs from this period offered lantern slides, stereographs, prints and films, with the bulk of listings drawn from the areas of science and nature. Stone and his wife departed for Europe in the spring of 1930, intending to spend a year photographing works of art. It was envisioned that these new images would expand the stockhouse's offerings into areas of the humanities and provide a boost to the business. However, the Stones came home to America in 1931 to a worsening economy and the hoped-for benefit never materialized. They soon sold the house in Carmel and moved back to Berkeley, where Stone returned to the university and received his M.A. in zoology in 1933. He also returned to another earlier activity, accompanying Hancock on another expedition to the Galapagos around this time.

In 1934, Stone's career again took a new direction. Soon after enrolling as a student at San Jose State University (then San Jose State College) Stone was asked to be an instructor. Stone had a long career as an educator, building the photography program at San Jose State from a very small venture into a thriving department, of which he served as the first chairman. During World War II, Stone took a leave of absence to serve as a photographic officer in the army. After the war, he returned to teaching and also wrote a book, Progressive Photography, a laboratory manual for college students, which went through three editions. Stone retired with the academic rank of an Associate Professor in 1956.

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