Roosevelt used publicity effectively throughout his career and attracted the attention of photographers from the start. Newspapers carried his words while photographs conveyed the spirit of his intentions. Roosevelt's political maturation paralleled major technical changes in photography. In the year that the 23-year-old Roosevelt took his seat in the Assembly, Frederick Ives established the first company to commercially produce halftone photographic reproductions. The next twenty years saw the rise of portable cameras, high speed dry plates, plastic roll film, Eastman's first Kodak, and an increasing interest in stereoscopic photographs of world-wide topics.
Roosevelt was presumably well aware of the potential power of the photographic image. He met Jacob Riis, a journalist and early practitioner of photography as an advocacy tool, shortly after the publication of his famous work, How the Other Half Lives (1890). As Police Commissioner, Roosevelt supported Riis in his crusade to clean up New York's slums. Lincoln Steffens reflected on Roosevelt's spirit of reform: "It was just as if we three were the police board, T.R., Riis and I."' While Roosevelt was personally escorted by Riis through the East Side and saw firsthand the miserable living conditions, he must also have seen Riis' photographs, and recognized their persuasive significance.
By the time Roosevelt became President, American photography was entering a watershed period. While most histories of the medium dwell at length on Pictorialism, Alfred Stieglitz, and the Photo Secession, this was also a period when photojournalism began to grow as an independent profession. With the exception of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, we have been conditioned to think of the documentary tradition in American photography as a product of the New Deal. Actually, a number of innovations in the late nineteenth century led to an immediate expansion of photographic reportage. The introduction of hand cameras with reflex viewfinders allowed photographers to focus and frame while directly viewing the subject through the lens. Coupled with high speed shutters and high speed dry plates, these new cameras gave photographers the freedom to more closely follow the action unfolding in front of them. In addition, the greater use of magnesium flash powder made interior and night work more effective. Most importantly, halftone reproduction-the process by which photographs could be printed together with moveable type--improved greatly.
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