A Steady Lens – pioneer photographer Mary Spencer

A Steady Lens   author

A Steady Lens
by Sherril Foster

Toronto, February 28, 2014. Yesterday I received a courteous note from author Sherril Foster. Ms Foster wrote to the website after learning of the death of Gerry Loban who she wished to thank for his assistance with her research of BC photographer Mary Spencer.

Talking about Mary Spencer, Sherril states:
She ended up in BC and took the famous shots of train robber Bill Miner in 1906.  I did find out lots more about her and the result is my book; A Steady Lens, The True Story of Pioneer Photographer, Mary Spencer.
    “She actually started her career in Ontario and apprenticed under a photographer in Port Colborne in the mid 1890s, Silas Hayes.
“Thanks again for your help. It really was a lot of fun researching and everyone I contacted was so helpful. I think the book is doing quite well”.

The book is available on Amazon.

The following material is courtesy of Caitlin Press Inc., publishers of the book:

In the early 1900s, Mary Spencer attracted a small audience with her breathtaking photographs of the local scenery and townsfolk of Kamloops. Although her name remains unfamiliar to most Canadians, this enigmatic young woman likely captured the most notorious and familiar images ever taken in BC—photos so widely known that it is likely a rare Canadian who has not seen her work.

In 1898, forty-year-old schoolteacher Mary Spencer left Ontario with her sister Isobel and widowed mother and journeyed west via the Canadian Pacific Railway. Isobel promptly resumed her dressmaking and tailoring trade in Kamloops, but Mary Spencer had not come west to teach school. Instead, she set up a photography studio on Victoria Street West, and very soon became widely known within the community. In a time when women were discouraged from entering the man’s world of business and trade, Mary’s business thrived. Then one day in May 1906, Mary was asked to photograph a special subject. She was hired by the Vancouver Province to cover the story of the famous train robbers Bill Miner and his gang. Mary’s photos of Billy and his cohorts captured the imagination of a province intrigued by BC’s first and most charming train robber.

The life of Mary Spencer has been fictionalized and romanticized by poets, playwrights and filmmakers. She has been iconized as Billy Miner’s lover, companion and confidant, but the true tale of this stoic pioneering woman has never been told. In A Steady Lens: The True Story of Pioneer Photographer Mary Spencer, Sherril Foster tells her story and shares a stunning collection of previously unpublished photographs. Mary’s photographs of Billy Miner and his gang brought her “anonymous” notoriety, but it has taken more than one hundred years for Mary to finally be recognized as one of BC’s most prominent early photographers.


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