Leigh Gleason

Leigh Gleason is the Curator of Collections at the California Museum of Photography (CMP), part of the University of California, Riverside. She holds a BA in Cinema and Photography from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; a MA in art history from the University of California, Riverside; an MLIS in archival studies from San Jose State University; and is currently (2017) completing a PhD in visual history from the Photographic History Research Centre at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK.

With Citrus Came Cameras: Riverside’s First Photographers, 1881-1899


My project focused on identifying and researching the earliest photographers working in Riverside, California. Riverside (and the whole inland Southern California region) had not been well covered by Peter Palmquist, Carl Mautz, and the many other kindred spirits who have worked on early Western U.S. photography. Thus, my project started with some rough lists, approximate dates, and a few false leads. Researching in the local collections, and especially in early city directories and newspapers, I assembled a robust set of biographies and context for what little visual material survives. I traced photographic studios in Riverside to 1880, which is not as late as it seems; the city of Riverside was founded in 1870. While I have exhausted the major print and archival references to the city’s early history, I have still been left with some unanswered questions. For example, I found an 1878 advertisement in a Riverside newspaper for a photographer in nearby San Bernardino that states, “Now that our Riverside photographer is not taking pictures much, our people can not do better than to patronize Vale [the San Bernardino photographer].” Newspapers are spotty in and before 1878, so I may never know who this earlier photographer is – but hope to find more information in the future. With the grant from the Peter Palmquist Fund, I was able to travel to Sacramento and Los Angeles to widen my research. The grant also covered important subscriptions to research tools, interlibrary loan fees, etc. With the award, I was able to quicken the pace of my research.  


My initial output for this project was an article that the Journal of the Riverside Historical Society published in 2014. The article traced the lineage of a studio that was run by a succession of three different photographers between 1880 and 1884: H.W. Shaw, A.M. Turner, and W.A. Vale. While work survives by Shaw and Turner (and San Bernardino-based work survives by Vale), excepting Vale (whose work in San Bernardino is known and researched), these photographers had been completely unknown, even to those who specialize in Riverside’s history. 

After the article, the Riverside Metropolitan Museum invited me to guest-curate an exhibition on Riverside’s photographers, drawing largely from their robust photographic collection. The exhibition, called “Chasing the Sun: Riverside Photographers, 1880-1930” was approximately 100 photographs, arranged chronologically by photographer with biographies on each. 

Most recently, in January 2017, the Riverside Historical Society invited me to lecture on Riverside photographs from the California Museum of Photography’s collection. The lecture was incredibly well attended – I was told it was the largest attendance they’d had at a meeting – and the audience was engaged and excited to learn about Riverside’s photographic histories. It’s clear that there is an enthusiastic local audience, and I hope to continue sharing my research with them.

Exhibition link: 

Article PDF: Riverside's First Local Photographers: 1880-1884