The Remarkable Images of the Springer Album


UL_1449_0103. “Harry [Henry Babington] Cambie and Ruby Springer Walking Together”. UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections, Uno Langmann Collection. [Springer] Family Photo Album, ca1900-1910. Photographer unknown.

The image shown above is a fine example of what seem to me to be the quite ‘modern’ images that comprise the Springer family album that is part of UBC’s Uno Langmann Collection. The photograph above, which probably was taken at Harrison Lake, shows one of the Springer sisters (almost certainly) and, less certainly to me, Henry (Harry) Babington Cambie – Henry John Cambie’s son (HJC is the namesake for one of the major streets and a bridge crossing False Creek in Vancouver) – walking along the waterfront with their backs to the camera. In these early years of photography, it was pretty uncommon for camera operators (either amateurs or pros) to make images of people that were anything other than ‘face on’ and posed. This portrait has neither of those qualities.¹

The Springer brood consisted of three boys and three girls. The children of Benjamin Springer (1841-1898) and Fannie Nias (1854-1874) seem to have arrived roughly every two or three years beginning with Mabel, the eldest, and followed by Eva, Frank, Hugh, Ruby and, lastly, Robert.

Given the number of photographs in which Ruby Springer is identified in this album, it seemed to me possible that a suitor of Ruby’s may have been the principal photographer of family/friends in this album.² The only suitor of Ruby’s of whom I’m aware was the man who ultimately married her — William Alfred Bauer; he wedded Ruby Maud Eliza Springer in December 1907.

My theory that W. A. Bauer was the main photographer of the Springer album fell apart, however, upon discovering that there was another album in the Uno Langmann Collection attributed to Bauer. The photographs in Bauer’s album seem to me to be very different from those in the Springer album. Bauer seems to favour landscape shots, versus the people-dominated images of the Springer album. And Bauer also seemed to bring a greater technical expertise to his shots than could be said of the sometimes blurry and often under- or over-exposed shots taken by the mystery shooter of the Springer images. The images that made it into Bauer’s album were pretty consistently sharp and appropriately exposed. Composition-wise, however, Bauer’s shooting couldn’t hold a candle to the images made by the Springer shooter!

Having rejected Bauer as the primary shooter of the Springer album, I turned to the possibility that Ruby had taken the shots herself (Note: Upon marrying Bauer, she seemed to revert to one of her middle name as her ‘first’ name: Maud. To prevent confusion, however, I will continue to refer to her in this post as Ruby). We have access to Ruby’s shooting style, thanks to the presence in the Langmann Collection of an album attributed to her. A browse through Ruby’s photos in this album, however, reflect such a different style as to make it very unlikely that she was the shooter of the photos in the Springer album. Ruby Springer Bauer tended to shoot wide landscapes with teeny-tiny people in the middle distance or background of the shot, as opposed to the emphasis in nearly every image in the Springer album on people as the main subject.


UL_1449_0089. “Man and woman with a baby.” UBC Rare Books and Special Collections, Uno Langmann Collection. [Springer] Family Photo Album. ca1900-1910. Photographer unknown. Note: This image seems to me to be more typical of a shot made in the 1950s or ’60s than one made in the early years of the 20th century. The dominance in the shot of the baby and the proud parents is remarkable, in my opinion.

The reasoning of the previous paragraphs has led me to the not-very-remarkable conclusion that the Springer album shooter was one of the Springer siblings. Perhaps a little more remarkable, however, is my personal belief that the photographer was one of the two sisters: either Mabel or Eva (rejecting Ruby from contention, as we’ve done, above). The predominance of women and children in the Springer shots is one of the features that leads me to this conclusion. But the other feature is the very relaxed nature of the subjects of the photos; they seem (women and men alike) to truly ‘let their hair down’ in these Edwardian photos in a way that seems improbable to me had the photographer been male (as was the norm at the time).

A good example of the remarkably relaxed subjects is the photo below of a woman (Ruby Springer?) with her back — not to mention her backside — facing the camera whilst adjusting the sail on a boat!


UL_1449_0110. Man and woman adjusting sail. UBC Rare Books and Special Collections, Uno Langmann Collection. [Springer] Family Photo Album. ca1900-1910. Photographer unknown.


¹Whether it is “Harry Cambie,” as identified by UBC as the male subject of the first photo, seems to me to be open to question given that the gent walking along the waterfront seems to have darker hair colour than other images of “Harry Cambie” identified by an album owner with black grease pencil. See, for example, this image from the Springer album.

²Not all of the images in the album are family/friends shots. Toward the back of the album, the ‘feel’ of the images changes quite abruptly, apparently in time and also with a change in the principal camera operator. There are at least three images of groups trudging through and camping in the Chilkoot Pass that were made by Eric A. Hegg, a pro photographer associated primarily with images of the Gold Rush. A long-format postcard of a BC Electric Observation Car taken by local pro, Harry E. Bullen, is also included in the album. Other professional images near the back of the album include one made by the Gidley Studio of Duncan, BC and a couple made by J. A. Brock (a  Vancouver professional photographer from 1886-1890s). For more information on these (and virtually all other) major early photographers in B.C. and environs, please see David Mattison’s fine photographic directory for BC, Yukon, and Alaska, Camera Workers: 1858-1950.

This entry was posted in Eric A. Hegg, Gidley Studio, Harry E. Bullen, J. A. Brock, Photographers, UBC, Uno Langmann Collection and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Remarkable Images of the Springer Album

  1. lhhouben says:

    Lovely and unusual photos! Love them.

    • mdm says:

      You are most welcome!

    • JJ says:

      Excellent choice of photographs. As soon as I saw the photo of the baby smiling so genuinely at the photographer, it seemed most likely that it was most probably a favorite auntie making that evocative photograph. At that moment, I simultaneously read your commentary in which you expressed a similar thought. Who knows tho, maybe it was a stranger wearing a funny hat with a propeller, puffing on a big smoky cigar, with a banana eating monkey on his shoulder. I’d laugh at that too, maybe even pay for the privilege of such an intrepid entrepreneur’s company.

      My bet, though, is that it the camera was sitting on a picnic table of sorts, with auntie taking the photo, and mother proudly holding up baby and looking at some other friend or loved one who has captured her attention for a moment. They are among friends. There is a gathering going on. Mom and dad know they aren’t the central focus of this endeavor.

      Is it a photograph celebrating a baby christening? After all, the real focus of that photo is the stunning christening gown, isn’t it? Why else have baby outdoors in such an easily damaged and sullied garment if not to capture sunshine itself in the form of new life?


      It must have been tough for the Ruby and her siblings to lose their mother in 1874, when they seemingly would have been very young children. Maybe such hardship strengthened sisterly bonds; if so, the informal, fantastically composed samples you’ve provided (if auntie-photographed) give us a fine glimpse into these bonds, which as you elegantly point out, are not common of that era’s state of photography.

      Thanks for your passion

  2. Brian Nixon says:

    Ruby Springer was my maternal grandmother. In spite of graduating from UBC in the 70,s I was not aware that theses albums existed

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