Andrew Alexander Forbes was the first resident photographer in the Owens Valley area of California. He maintained a commercial
photo studio in Bishop from 1902 to 1916. In addition, Forbes also made panoramic murals and scenic calendars. Included in
are photographs and negatives depicting the Paiute Indians in the Owens Valley area and the natural scenery in the Eastern
Sierra region. Also included are portraits of other Native American
groups and cowboys, as well as photographs of mines, ranches, livestock, towns, and California missions. The photographs in
this collection are arranged numerically.
Andrew Alexander Forbes (1862-1921) was born in Ottawa Township, Wisconsin, and became
interested in photography around the late 1870s or early 1880s while working on his family's
cattle ranch. Among his photographic achievements are photographs taken at the opening of the
“Cherokee Strip” at the fourth Oklahoma land run in September 1893. It is not known how he
took on the skill, but it is likely that he was influenced by his mother as well as by William
Prettyman, George B. Cornish, and Thomas Croft, all whom he worked alongside during his time
photographing western territories as an itinerant photographer. Forbes considered himself first
and foremost a landscape photographer. He worked primarily with the bulky large format
camera, which was not easy to work with on account of the size of the equipment and materials.
However, his use of 8x10 negatives on color-blind plates yielded extremely high-quality prints.
Before opening his own studio, he traveled throughout the United States, photographing railroad
construction workers, cowboys, cattle roundups, sod houses, and Native Americans in areas such
as Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. He settled with the rest of the Forbes
family in California in 1890, first near Wildomar in Riverside County and later Santa Ana in
Orange County. During this time he also photographed areas in California such as Death Valley
and the Eastern Sierra.
Around 1902, he established Forbes Studio on West Line Street in Bishop, Inyo County,
California. His studio was immensely popular among the Paiute Indians in the area who
frequently had their portraits taken by Forbes and became his friends. These relationships in turn
also provided him with the unique opportunity to photograph their neighboring encampments in
Owens Valley and Yosemite. A recurring subject was Paiute women in maternal scenes. In 1905,
he was assigned to photograph water resources in Owens Valley for Fred Eaton, the former
mayor of Los Angeles who was embroiled in the California Water Wars of the early 20th century.
Forbes, however, opposed the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. In 1916, Forbes closed
his studio and relocated to Southern California with his wife Mary Rozette Prutzman and their
son J. McLaren Forbes in hopes of opening a new studio. Unfortunately, a new location never
came to fruition. Aside from photography, Forbes was actively involved in his community,
participating in church groups and local plays. He was also a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge.
Forbes died in 1921 of a heart attack in Lompoc, California.
46 linear feet (Boxes: letter, ½ letter, 2 record storage, 6 ov, ov folders in mc-14)