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Collinge (J. Walter) Photograph Collection

Identifier: AR-2023-001
Dancer Doris Smith at El Paseo by J. Walter Collinge
Dancer Doris Smith at El Paseo by J. Walter Collinge

Content Description

The J. Walter Collinge Photograph Collection contains over three hundred photographs by Santa Barbara photographer J. Walter Collinge (1883-1964). Primarily 8" x 10" black and white prints of architectural and scenic images, the collection also contains signed oversize and hand-tinted color photographs.


  • 1919 - 1961


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. For permissions to reproduce or to publish, please contact the Head Archivist of the Gledhill Library.

J. Walter Collinge

James Walter Collinge (1883-1964) was one of the most unlikely individuals to become an accomplished photographer. From childhood Collinge was nearly deaf and almost blind. Collinge was born in a small town in Montana and would later say that he was the first white baby born in the town. His family moved west settling in Ashland, Oregon, where Collinge apprenticed to a photographer. At the age of 17, Collinge won an Honorable Mention in a photography competition sponsored by Youth’s Companion magazine.

In 1900, the Collinge family relocated to Riverside, California, where Walter drove a car as a tour guide for the Mission Inn despite his poor eyesight. He kept camera gear in the car for any spontaneous opportunity to photograph the backcountry. During this time Collinge assisted at his uncle's photo studio store in Pomona, selling supplies and "original images of points of interest. During the world wide flu outbreak of 1918, Collinge moved to Santa Barbara to reduce his exposure to large crowds.

Given his eyesight, Collinge generally avoided the finely nuanced demands of portraiture, but he became a master of architectural photography. One of his principal sources of income was taking fine photographs of interiors and exteriors of mansions in Montecito. and compiling the photographs into handsome hand-bound portfolios for the owners. Among the estates he photographed were those of Max Fleischmann, George Owen Knapp, and John and Lolita Mitchell. Architects, such as George Washington Smith, befriended Collinge because of his fine treatment of their designs. He also did extensive photography of yachts, such as Fleischmann's Haida.

Collinge is also recognized for his exquisite photography of nudes, female and male. Many of Collinge’s nudes utilized the human form as an abstract element in an Art Deco style, with the body as a form within the overall design of the image. His nude studies reveal an almost quaint innocence when compared to most of today's figure photography. Collinge arranged some of his nude studies into sumptuous handmade books he distributed to friends. One of Collinge's most famous photographs in this genre, "The Fairy Ring,” featuring dancer Doris Humphrey of the renowned Denishawn Company. His extensive nude studies were done settings ranging from theatrical sets to seashores and featured male and female dancers, such as Ruth St. Denis.

Collinge's architectural, scenic, and nude photography was in high demand for American and international salon exhibition during the 1920s and 1930s and received numerous awards. "The Fairy Ring," for example, garnered awards from top salons from the United States to Paris.

In the early 1920s. Collinge operated out of Santa Barbara's San Marcos Building. By 1925 he was set to move to a better location across the street. Collinge was out in the street early on the morning of June 29. 1925, to begin moving his equipment and cameras when the great earthquake suddenly struck. He watched the San Marcos Building collapse, destroying his cameras, darkroom equipment, negatives, and many prints. Three people died in the building. Peg Collinge, Collinge’s daughter-in-law, later reflected that he never quite recovered from the financial shock of the quake.

Ironically, the rebuilding of Santa Barbara offered Collinge dozens of new architectural subjects for his cameras. By 1926-27, he was operating out of two downtown locations. Collinge’s wife, Florence Margaret Foster, sometimes appeared in his photographs and ran the family's retail photograph operations. Peg Collinge drove Collinge in his two-seater Ford, pulling a teardrop trailer packed with gear, to Lompoc for photo sessions for Burpee seed catalogs, one of his most durable contracts. Much of this work was done on large format 8" x 10" Kodachrome slide film and sent to Rochester, New York, for processing. While a number ot Kodak labs around the country could process Kodachrome, Collinge felt the Rochester lab did the highest quality work. These huge color slides are so beautiful they could be hung for viewing, akin to stained glass windows.

Late in life, Collinge destroyed many of his own negatives. Historian and collector, Thomas Schmidt, believes Collinge destroyed his own work out of frustration over having never achieved the recognition he had hoped for as a photographer. Fortunately, Peg Collinge discovered a trunk in the family home, filled with negatives, many years after her father-in-law's death.

Collinge's black and white photo postcards are principally architectural. Some of the photo postcards were also hand-tinted. He published his postcards as "California Pictures," usually with a title on the front of the card. Framing the front of the Santa Barbara Mission in the boughs of a pepper tree showed a master’s control of space and form. His distant photographs of the Samarkand Hotel reveal the same significant skill at utilizing delicate lighting that made his nude studies successful.

Some who knew Collinge felt his impaired vision and difficulty in discerning fine detail forced him to utilize form and space in a more artful way than other photographers. His photographic sensibility, defined by both grace and power in many of his photographs, made Collinge one of the most revered and collected of Santa Barbara’s early photographers.

-- Burd, Brian. 2003. "Santa Barbara Postcard Photography," in Noticias, Vol. 49, No. 2.


342 Photographic Prints

Language of Materials



The J. Walter Collinge Photograph Collection contains over three hundred photographs by Santa Barbara photographer J. Walter Collinge (1883-1964). Recognized for his photography of architecture, landscapes, and nudes, this collection concentrates on Collinge's architectural and scenic photography in and around Santa Barbara's many historical places and events, especially Old Spanish Days Fiesta.


The collection is arranged in eight series:

Box 1: Fiesta Parade

Box 2: Fiesta Courthouse

Box 3: Fiesta El Paseo and Mission

Box 4: Santa Barbara Landmarks

Box 5: Fiesta Oversize

Box 6: Santa Barbara Oversize

Box 7: Gardens Oversize

Box 8: Various Oversize

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The photograph collection was donated by Peg Collinge, the daughter-in-law of J. Walter Collinge.

Related Materials

Burd, Brian. 2003. "James Walter (J. W.) Collinge (1883-1964)" in Noticias, Vol. 49, No. 2, Summer 2003.

Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Gledhill Library, Photo Files OS-A, 90.89, 90.895, 90.91

Processing Information

The J. Walter Collinge Photograph Collection was processed by Chris S. Ervin CA and Leslie A. Ervin in February 2023.

Guide to the J. Walter Collinge Photograph Collection
Chris S. Ervin CA and Leslie A. Ervin
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Gledhill Library Repository

136 E. De La Guerra
Santa Barbara California 93101 USA