Albert Dixon Simmons, outdoors photographer, naturalist, and author
Archive Representative: John W. Flynn, Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org
Albert Dixon Simmons (1892-1972) was a pioneer in nature action photography and color filmmaking and their use in studying the flight mechanics of birds. He authored two photography books in association with the noted sporting genre publisher and editor Eugene V. Connett III.
A native of Prince Edward Island and a 1916 M.I.T. graduate (Architecture), he established a business in Cleveland, OH. The Great Depression forced a change of plans and, rather than rebuild the architecture firm, he shifted focus towards his passion for the outdoors with an initial goal of revealing the technical nuances of avian flight with a camera. By adapting a camera mount to a rifle stock with open gun sights that allowed fast-moving birds to be “shot” in flight, Simmons created elegant images from individual negatives and composite images assembled in the darkroom. Wing Shots (1936, Derrydale, NY) was a ground-breaking effort, the release of which was noted by TIME magazine. Each of the 83 illustrations was a print made from a corresponding mounted, titled and signed black & white photograph. The dust jacket image appeared in the 1937 Leica Annual and other images and/or articles were published in Nature and Field & Stream magazines. In late 1936, he became involved with the first generation of Kodachrome color transparency and motion picture films, traveling to various locales, including a 1937 journey to Bird Rock (Rochers aux Oiseaux) in Canada, to document migratory species with some of the first color transparencies and films of birds in the wild. The Wing Shots images comprise the vast majority of Simmons’s printed works, as he made only a few prints from Bird Rock images and otherwise made one known print after the 1930s, preferring transparencies and slide show presentations.
Simmons continued to photograph commercially for sporting and wartime publications and equipment manufacturers, was outdoors editor for the Cleveland News, provided radio commentary, and maintained long-time relationships with the Cleveland Zoo and Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He contracted as guide/photographer for hunting and fishing expeditions, with the experiences from Alaska to Africa culminating in Photography for Sportsmen (1951, D. van Nostrand, NY), a detailed how-to guide for nature and outdoors photographers and filmmakers.
He and his wife summered at two homes they renovated in her native Nova Scotia, combining family, friends, and work, until his death there in 1972. His cameras and extensive library, and many negatives, transparencies, prints, and motion pictures, were sold, given away, or misplaced in the ensuing years but the majority of Wing Shots original negatives and many early Kodachrome transparencies, as well as unpublished images depicting Maritime province life in the 1950’s, were saved by his daughter, though they remained idle for decades. The archive is maintained today by his grandson.
A chance discovery on eBay in 2011 of a manuscript, hand-assembled by Simmons and begun over 70 years earlier, confirmed that in his last years he was attempting to complete a book about Bird Rock. While the family knew of a book effort, no information could be located following his passing. Early in 1972, in failing health, Simmons had sent the manuscript to the colleague who had accompanied him to Bird Rock thirty-five years earlier, as a gesture of friendship and thanks. Amazingly, it found its way home.
The George Eastman House keeps a small number of Simmons’s transparencies in its permanent collection as examples of first-generation Kodachrome and glass slide mounting technique.