Photo Detective: Identifying a Copy

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

Pat Strasser owns two identical images of the same man but taken by different photographers. She has two questions: Which one is the copy and who is in the picture?

Photographic imprints supply part of the answer. Figure 1 was taken by Orris Hunt, who states on his card that he was successor to Harry Shepherd at 15 East Seventh St., St. Paul, Minn. It was quite common for one photographer to buy out another photographer’s studio when they decided to retire or move on. According to Biographies of Western Photographers by Carl Mautz, Harry Shepherd bought out the People’s Photographic Gallery in 1887 and renamed it. He was a very successful African-American photographer in St. Paul, eventually owning three studios and winning an award for his work at the 1891 State Fair. He left the area around 1905, when presumably Orris Hunt purchased his East Seventh Street studio. This information suggests that the portrait of the unidentified young man was taken sometime after 1905.

Figure 2 is the copy. The photographer, Felix Schanz, was active in Fort Wayne, Ind., in the 1920s, according the George Eastman House Database of Photographers at While photographic studios took new portraits of individuals, a basic part of their business was making copies of images already in existence.

If you are wondering about the connection between Fort Wayne and St. Paul, the answer is family. Pat Strasser’s father-in-law identified many of the pictures with the exception of these two and a few others. The Strasser family lived in Fort Wayne as early as 1867 when George Strasser was born. An older “step-sister” of George, Amada Hall (b. 1859) married a Danish immigrant, Edward Steade, in 1880. They moved to North Dakota and later Minneapolis, which is close to St. Paul. Pat thought it could be a portrait of Edward Steade, but given the dates of the photographer and other clues, this man is too young to be Edward. His clothing clues point to the early 20th century: a loose-fitting jacket worn unbuttoned with a vest, knit tie and stand-up collar. It appears that he is wearing a false shirt front with the tie tucked into it. Perhaps this was an attempt to dress-up a more ordinary everyday shirt. It is possible that this is a graduation picture. Given these clothing clues, the original photograph fits the time frame for Orris Hunt’s business and probably dates no later than 1910.

Here’s an idea of what happened to that photograph. I suspect the man pictured is a son of Amada and Edward Steade. He had his picture taken by Orris Hunt and sent one to his grandparents. Years later, other family members wanted copies and visited Felix Schanz’s studio. Somehow, these two photographs (one original and one duplicate) ended up in her father-in-law’s collection. Pat Strasser is working on another lead for identification. There was another branch of the family living in Minneapolis that had a son of the right age for the portrait. His father worked for the railroad, so it’s possible the young man followed in his father’s footsteps, traveling around the country between relatives via train.

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