San Francisco, CA
A leading San Francisco photographic studio that gained national recognition during the 1870s, the Bradley & Rulofson studio is also known for publishing Eadweard Muybridge’s (1830-1904) photographic views of Yosemite Valley and other California landscape scenes. Henry William Bradley (1813-1891), the senior partner of the venture, was a notable daguerreotype photographer, ran the business side of the partnership and was a leading dealer of photographic supplies and equipment. Born in Wilmington, North Carolina, Bradley apparently learned photography in New Orleans sometime before 1846, when he returned to Wilmington. He opened a daguerreotype studio after arriving in San Francisco in 1850. By 1854 he was also dealing in equipment and supplies. Bradley won a prize for his photographs at the 1856 California State Fair. William Herman Rulofson (1826-1878) was a native of St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. Having learned photography, Rulofson established a studio in Fredericton, N. B. in 1847. He left his wife and infant daughter and traveled to California in 1849, establishing himself as a daguerreotype photographer in Stockton by 1850, when he brought his family to California, eventually living in Sonora. He formed a partnership to operate a studio with John B. Cameron (ca. 1813-?) in 1851 which lasted four years. Although his practice was financially successful, in 1863 Rulofson leased his gallery and moved to San Francisco to form a partnership with Bradley. They purchased Robert H. Vance’s (1825-1876) portrait studio. Rulofson operated the portrait gallery while Bradley supplied the gallery from his photographic supply business and began publishing photographs. Awarded a contract by the Army to photograph Fort Point and Fort Alcatraz, Bradley & Rulofson began selling prints to the public earning the Army’s ire and seizure of all the negatives, later returned. Their business reputation recovered and they exhibited at the photography exhibitions sponsored by the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute from 1864 through1974, winning prizes in 1864, 1865 and again in 1871. There studios became known for luxurious furnishings and decorations and they promoted their business assiduously. Bradley & Rulofson scored a coup when they lured Muybridge from the Thomas Houseworth and Company publishing company and published the “Catalogue of Photographic Views Illustrating the Yosemite, Mammoth Trees, Geyser Springs and Other Remarkable and Interesting Scenery of the Far West by Muybridge” in 1873. Two years later they published “Bradley & Rulofson’s Catalogue of Celebrities.” Rulofson’s photographs won gold medals at exhibitions in Vienna (1873) and Philadelphia (1874) and at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial International Exhibition. He had been elected president of the National Photographic Association in 1874. Financial disaster struck in 1877, however. Bradley had suffered significant losses during the 1871 Chicago fire, had assigned his interest in the partnership to his creditor John H. Dall, and declared bankruptcy in 1877. Bradley closed his photography supply business and retired the next year. Dall and Rulofson operated the photographic studio for a year, but in 1878 Rulofson fell to his death while inspecting work being done on the roof of the gallery building. Dall and Rulofson’s estate kept the business going under the Bradley & Rulofson name with a staff of photographers, and then under Dall’s sole ownership after 1883, but closed the studio in 1887. (TNB 4/2016) Selected bibliography: Haas, Robert Bartlett. “William Herman Rulofson: Pioneer Daguerreotypist and Photographic Educator,” in California Historical Society Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 4 (December 1955), pp. 239-300 and vol. 35, no. 1 (March 1956), pp. 47-58. Palmquist, Peter, and Thomas R. Kailbourne. Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865. Pp 115-118 and 465-468. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.