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Lily E. White

American, 1866-1944



Occupation or Type


Northwest artist

Oregon artist


Lily White was the daughter of Oregon pioneer and riverboat captain Edward Milton White. Her grandfather Samuel Simpson White was a judge who also invested in the building of the sidewheeler Lot Whitcomb (launched in 1850), the first steamer to run on the Willamette River. With such a nautical background, it is no surprise that White became well-versed in life on the river, which greatly influenced her work as an artist.

As part of the Oregon Camera Club, White regularly took steamboat trips up the Columbia River, photographing iconic landmarks such as Rooster Rock, Cape Horn, and Multnomah Falls. She may have learned photography while studying at the California School of Design (now the San Francisco Art Institute) or at the Art Institute of Chicago before returning to Oregon. Both she and fellow photographer and friend Sarah Ladd contributed images to Alfred Stieglitz's Camera Notes in 1901 and in 1903, and they were among the first members of Stieglitz's elite art movement, Photo-Secession.

Around this time, White commissioned the construction of a custom houseboat, the Raysark. Completed in 1903, the eighty-foot vessel was equipped with a dark room as well as generous quarters for entertaining. White knew how to operate a boat herself, gaining her the affectionate nickname, "Captain." The Raysark served as headquarters for her excursions with Ladd and fellow photographer Maud Ainsworth.

White's photographs are platinum prints, which offer a rich and warm tonal range. Being able to spend a significant amount of time on the river and develop photographs on-site afforded White the opportunity to explore the environment at length, with considerations to different times of day and atmospheric changes. In the pictures shown here, the vantage point is from the water. White's images are remarkable in their depth of perspective and clarity.



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