NMU’s DeVos Art Museum has loaned several prints by renowned wildlife photographer George Shiras III (1859-1942) to the Museum of Hunting and Nature in Paris. Shiras developed breakthrough methods for photographing animals at night in natural habitats—largely in the Upper Peninsula—and continues to be recognized for his contributions. The Paris exhibition of his work runs through Feb. 14. It features prints from the DeVos Art Museum and National Geographic magazine, which prominently showcased 74 of Shiras’ pictures in a July 1906, single-article issue titled, “Hunting Wild Game with Flashlight and Camera.”
The DeVos Art Museum received 11 vintage prints in 2012 as a gift from the collection of June and Fred Schaefer.
“They were printed here in Marquette by Frederick Charleton,” said Melissa Matuscak, DeVos director. “Seven were requested by the museum in Paris. National Geographic loaned contemporary reproductions printed from Shiras’ original negatives. We had previously comprised a Shiras collection of inner negatives that were acquired from the original negatives held by National Geographic. They were acquired for an exhibition in Lee Hall and have remained with the museum’s permanent collection. The Schaefer’s gift was a significant addition to that and we plan to show some of the work sometime next year.”
Matuscak credits three NMU staff members for their assistance with the Paris exhibition: Emily Lanctot, collections and outreach curator, worked with the museum on logistics to ensure the work is being taken care of while on display there; exhibitions manager Chris Moore fabricated a custom crate suitable for international shipping; and Jim Groesch in central receiving handled the outgoing shipping and customs work. Matuscak encourages people to visit the Museum of Hunting and Nature website for more information.
President Theodore Roosevelt was reportedly so impressed by the National Geographic issue dedicated to the pioneering photographer that he implored Shiras to write a "big book" with his photos and notes of wildlife. Thirty years later, Hunting Wild Life With Camera and Flashlight was published. The two-volume set contains more than 960 of Shiras’ wildlife photographs, including some of the earliest flash photography. The letter from Roosevelt marked the beginning of a personal friendship between the two men that endured until Roosevelt died.
The Central U.P. and NMU Archives obtained a collection of their correspondence and other Shiras papers. His biography on the archives website reads (in part):
“Shiras' personal connection to the environment started at a young age and this love of the wild outdoors would impact his future as a world-renowned faunal naturalist and amateur photographer. In the summer of 1870 at the age of 11, Shiras would make the first of many camping, fishing and hunting trips to Marquette, Michigan. Around 1889, he began experimenting with cameras in order to capture images of wildlife live and in their natural habitats. Shiras is recognized as the father of wildlife photography and was the first to advocate hunting wildlife with a camera in both daytime and nighttime. His photographic inventions were patented in the U. S. and other countries, then dedicated to free use by the public, preventing commercial exploitation. He was a steady contributor to National Geographic magazine, sharing photographs and tales of his many field trips to various locations throughout the United States and Canada.”
A part-time Marquette resident for more than 70 years, Shiras resided in the community permanently following the sudden death of his wife, Frances, in 1938. He died on March 24, 1942, and is interred at Park Cemetery.