Photographer Everett Murray and His Work

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 7/11/2018
  • Essay 20601

Operating from 1908 to 1955 in Everett, the J. A. Juleen Studio produced thousands of commercial photos and portraits taken mostly in Everett and Snohomish County. HistoryLink historian Margaret Riddle tells the story of finding the work of photographer Everett Murray in a large collection of Juleen negatives donated to the Everett Public Library, where she served as historian for more than 30 years. First published in the Journal of Everett and Snohomish County History in 1983, the following article was updated in 2018 for use on HistoryLink.

Discovering Everett Murray

When boxes of Juleen Studio photo material were left in care of the Everett Public Library by retiring photographer Don Pringle (1921-2016) in the 1980s, the library's Northwest Room historians, David Dilgard and Margaret Riddle, first turned their attention to sorting and inventorying the collection. John A. Juleen was one of the city's most prolific commercial photographers and the bulk of material received was work done in the 1920s and 1930s. Library staff now had the opportunity to expand the story of the Juleen Studio, assumed to be the work of John A. and his wife Lee. But questions arose: How representative were these remains, how complete was studio identification, and were unknown photographers involved?

A careful count numbered more than 5,000 items, mostly 5-by-7 and 8-by-10 black-and-white glass, nitrate, and safety-film negatives. Many of these were nitrate, including rolled panorama negatives in various stages of deterioration. Subject matter ranged from scenics made by John for his popular postcards, to portraits and a wealth of commercial work for local businesses and industries, including Everett Pulp and Paper Company, Weyerhaeuser Timber, and Soundview Paper, which hired the studio on contract, a standard studio procedure of the time.

Most negatives were in non-archival paper envelopes that carried identifications including studio numbering (a different series for each format) plus a description of the job assignment and often an exact date. Earliest were 5-by-7 glass-plate negatives taken between 1910 and 1915 and nitrate panorama negatives dated from 1912 through the 1920s. Greatest in number were 5-by-7 and 8-by-10 nitrate negatives taken in Everett and Snohomish County in the 1920s and 1930s. All were black and white.

With the help of historical-photography specialist John Witter, then an instructor at Everett Community College, preliminary sorting was done, with glass and safety negatives separated first. Negatives that needed immediate attention were tagged for duplication and all were placed in archival envelopes with care taken to retain identification. Some water damage was apparent, the result of a fire in the building adjoining the Pringle Studio shortly before the transfer.

Ideally a print should have been struck from each negative in order to preserve the image and allow easier access, but there was insufficient staff time, money, and storage space to do this. Certain images caught immediate attention and were printed, others were duplicated for patrons, and some were copied that were in danger of loss.

Slowly it became apparent that while J. A. Juleen had done notable work, many of the best photos in the acquisition were taken after his death in 1935. Negatives made on assignment for local businesses, such as the Everett Woolworth's upon the occasion of its new store opening in 1939, show with great clarity counters and bins of cosmetics, jewelry, hosiery, hardware, and confections. Christmas 1935 offered a chance to photograph Disney characters, electric trains, and other period toys at Rumbaugh's department store in Everett, and night views from this time-period document new store signs, occasionally neon. Most intriguing of all in the post-John Juleen material were those images made for Everett industries, artful 1930s views of plant facilities and machinery. In the best of these, composition is striking, the photographer inspired by his subject.

Since Lee Juleen continued the studio until her death in 1955, it was first assumed that these views were taken by her. Given her formal training as a painter, it was a reasonable assumption. But contemporaries remembered her strictly as a portrait photographer, doing the work that usually sustained most studios.

Unrelated research led to an Everett Herald news item that appeared August 2, 1938, announcing Juleen Studio photographer Everett Murray as winner of the Industrial Division of the Paris International Photo Exhibition of American Architecture. The award had been given for a series of photos Murray took of the Weyerhaeuser Timber Pulp Division.

Though the library's NW Room historians had been compiling a list of early Everett photographers for several years, Everett Murray's name had not been found. He did not have a listing in city directory classifieds but now, knowing his name, it was easy to trace his time in Everett. Impressed by the quality of work now assumed to be Murray's, Riddle searched for connections outside of Everett, checking early city directories of other major Washington cities and consulting knowledgeable researchers in the field. No connections were found and while several old-time photographers remembered him, information was sketchy. As a personality, Everett Murray was a mystery. While it was usual procedure for anonymous photographers to be lost identities under studio labels, it seemed odd to find one of obvious and recognized talent who had left so little trace.

Dilgard and Riddle published what they knew of Everett Murray in "An Index of Everett Photographers, 1890-1935" in Issue 3, Winter 1982, of the Journal of Everett and Snohomish County History, a library publication. Someone showed a copy to Murray's son, Everett Murray Jr., who had recently returned to Everett. He called the library and arranged a time for staff to come to his home and talk as well as to see prints his father had made. Although Murray Jr. was then to undergo heart surgery, he was anxious to share details of his father's career. Without his excellent recollections, photographer Everett Murray might still be a mystery.

The Photographer as a Young Man

To understand a little about Everett Murray, it's important to know something about the Great Depression, 1930s photography, and perhaps even more about the nature of an artist. Murray was not a native of Washington, nor was he a schooled photographer. Born May 22, 1899, in Berlin, New Hampshire, he was one of two children. Everett's father made his living as a papermaker.

Looking at a map, one can imagine Berlin (accent on the first syllable) to be a scenic small-town haven along the Androscoggin River, situated in the White Mountains. It is far enough north to be a short drive to Maine and Vermont and only a few hours out of Quebec. But Berlin was then a mill town with three paper plants providing the town's livelihood. It was in one of these mills that Everett Murray began work in electrical maintenance, eventually moving to the engineering department where he was a draftsman and an electrical theoretician. Photography was his hobby, but one he soon turned to profit. Through connections, Murray became photographer for the company's research department, where he stayed until 1926.

When his father, two uncles, and other family members moved west to Powell River, a town about 70 miles north of Vancouver, B.C., Murray was encouraged to come to the region, where his relatives thought he could secure work as a photographer in a local mill. Murray came but no job materialized. Instead he took a position as millworker until he could earn enough money to leave.

Photography was still on his mind and in 1927 Murray gained employment with the commercial firm of Chapin Bowen, Associated Photographers, in Tacoma. He remained there until 1932. In this position he did regular commercial work as well as photography for the Tacoma News Tribune. The Depression proved hard on photographers, though the era also produced some strikingly memorable images by those who stuck it out. But the hard times turned many permanently to other professions; Chapin Bowen failed. Murray tried freelancing but made little money at it. Possibly talent, determination, and compulsion, as well as being unencumbered with a studio of his own, allowed Murray to continue as a photographer through the lean years. He was next able to secure parttime work with Fred H. Krug of Hartsook Studio in Tacoma.

Work in Everett

The Juleen Studio in Everett maintained a steady share of commercial contracts in the early 1930s, enough at least that when John Juleen died in April 1935, Lee was fearful of losing them. She was uncomfortable working in non-studio settings and knew portraiture alone would not sustain the business in these Great Depression years. A good commercial photographer was needed to replace John. Murray was looking for steady work and by then had sound credentials.

Through a recommendation from C. F. Todd, a partner in Depue Morgan and Company of Seattle, and a Mr. Nicholson who was then area demonstrator for Eastman Kodak, Murray came to Everett to interview with Lee Juleen. Thus began a working relationship that lasted from May of 1935 to September of 1948. Murray's son, Everett Jr., recalled the years at Juleen Studio as difficult ones for both Murray and Lee Juleen since they definitely were conflicting personalities. Having come to photography via painting, Juleen had strong opinions about composition. So did Murray. Juleen was also a strong-willed, successful businesswoman with a sense of drama about her, and it is easy to speculate on the problems that resulted from working with an equally strong-willed and opinionated man in her employ. But Juleen's business sense prevailed; she knew the value of Murray's reputation and talent. Juleen Studio needed him.

Murray began his work in Everett with decided flair. His previous experience with pulp and paper mills allowed him to move comfortably into an early assignment, documenting construction progress at Weyerhaeuser's new sulfite mill. Surviving negatives from this association number 63, presumably only part of the original quantity. All but two are black-and-white safety film 8-by-10s from August 22, 1935, to October 5, 1939.

The negative for one of the earliest and best of this series is conspicuously missing -- a view of Weyerhaeuser's new digesters before their encasement in concrete. Prints and published reproductions suggest this was one of Murray's prize winners. Here he chose a vertical format to accent the digesters' geometrical shapes and details, creating a monumental industrial image, the digesters balanced against a sky one rarely sees in Everett. It is probable that Murray didn't see such a sky that day either. From his son's account, he probably combined two negatives to obtain the final print, a common manipulative effect of the time.

This view was chosen for newspaper coverage of the mill's opening as well as for Juleen Studio advertising and, although the original negative is gone, a 2¼-by-3¼ view is featured on a 1939 studio calendar. Taken at approximately the same time were three 8-by-10 negatives showing a mud slide over the Great Northern tracks on Weyerhaeuser property in August 1935. Such assignments were standard fare for commercial studios and usually yielded routine, uninteresting work. Again Murray surpassed the occasion, relying on imaginative composition and concentrating on the contrast between earth and machinery textures. The tonal separation is remarkable.

The Weyerhaeuser group is so rich that there must have been ample possibilities to choose from for display. And it could be that others from the prize-winning exhibit group are now missing. A later photograph frequently reproduced (one credited to Juleen Studio) is Murray's "Mills by Moonlight" shot, a night view of Weyerhaeuser's Mill B. Everett Murray Jr. recalled his father taking the photo from Smith Island and said that the print was made by combining three negatives, two of the mill and one of the sun that he burned in as a moon. Two such negatives are in the surviving collection, a vertical and a horizontal view, both 5-by-7 negatives. A version of this photo appeared in the WPA's 1941 Writer's Project Guide to Washington State. Close examination shows this to be an unaltered print made from one of the original negatives. Prints from other sources differ. Obviously struck from the same negative, the WPA view shows the mill as a dark silhouette against a night sky while another version shows the buildings lighted from within, a cloud-covered moon above, and reflections on the water -- evidence of Everett Murray at his manipulative best. It is hard to choose which is the better version.

Murray excelled photographing industrial settings. As a second-generation pulp mill employee who knew his subject intimately, he brought an authenticity to the occasion, balancing familiarity with awe. His best work was rarely equaled by peers. Well into the 1980s, a print of Murray's digesters photo hung in a Weyerhaeuser archive office.

Everett's Sumner Iron Works, Washington Stove Works, Pacific Grinding Wheel, and Robinson Manufacturing Company hired Murray, and he also was official photographer for two internal publications, Weyerhaeuser Lumber Division's Bee and Cee and Everett Pacific Shipbuilding's The Rebuilder. And while another Everett photographer, Faye Morrison, did much of Soundview Paper's local work, Murray handled the out-of-town assignments.

As remarkable as these industrial photos are, one-time sessions for small local businesses and groups account for the main body of remaining negatives done by Murray. When he turned to these commissions, the results were usually less inspired, but gems are found here as well. Frequently he elevated a standard job assignment into art through the use of composition and lighting. With the availability of faster-speed safety film, 1930s technical photo manuals became obsessed with the novelty of after-dark shooting, and both amateurs and professionals tried it. Murray used night scenes to good effect. Murray Jr. remembered helping his father on some of these assignments by holding up a bed sheet to keep auto headlights from reflecting on store windows.

Murray generally used a 5-by-7 Eastman Kodak view camera, equipped with an 18 cm Zeiss Tessar lens, a mismatch by most standards that should have caused vignetting but did not. It is unfortunate that most of Murray's 5-by-7 negatives have not survived. Most that remain are 8-by-10s taken, as Murray Jr. recalled, with either a Folmer or Graphic camera. Later Murray more frequently used a 4-by-5 Speed Graphic, the portable press camera that became popular and standard equipment with photographers in the 1940s, allowing handheld action views. No substantive material in this format remains in the Juleen collection. A 3¼-by-4¼ Recomar camera was kept at the studio but was not much used. (One exception is a 1938 Fourth of July parade series). Juleen's Cirkut panorama camera was still on hand and used occasionally, and in 1938 and 1940 Murray took movies for Soundview as well as some 1948 footage for Weyerhaeuser using a Bell and Howell Filmo 70 16mm camera with a Turret mount.

With the exception of a small number of prints in his son's care and some reproductions, little is known about how Murray printed his negatives. He left no instructions; his interest was with the job at hand. But thinking of his "Mills by Moonlight" view, it is likely that often he printed several versions. Some of his commercial photography at that time was intended for mechanical reproduction, for halftone printing. This imposed certain requirements that differed from ones made for display. Prints retained by his son were made on Kodabromide double-weight paper. At first Murray did all his own darkroom work, but eventually he employed assistants Jack Kent, Frank Martin, and "Red" Knight. Much of Murray's manipulative art involved the photographic techniques of dodging (keeping light from certain areas) and burning in (adding additional light to areas).

In photographing interiors Murray occasionally used a technique called "painting with light," which involved quickly moving floodlights behind and around objects photographed with very slow exposures. It is likely that most of his commercial jobs allowed for little improvisation. When hired to photograph Elks Club members at lunch, the best that he could do was find a particularly effective angle and wait for a good moment. When photographing the opening of a supermarket, he would have had to rely somewhat on luck. As a portrait photographer, Lee Juleen always worked in a controlled studio setting.

To supplement his income during World War II, Murray worked fulltime at Everett Shipbuilding and Drydock Company while continuing to work with the studio on nights and weekends covering weddings. He also made photos for the Everett Police Department. At war's end, he returned to full-time work at Juleen Studio.

Neither Murray nor Lee Juleen were to live much longer, and in 1948 tensions between the two became unworkable. Likely both were in poor health by then. While circumstances were never entirely clear, it was Everett Jr.'s impression that Murray was fired. The day following his departure, he began working for Seattle photographer Roger Dudley and Associates in Seattle, where he was employed until his death in April 1951. He and his family moved from Everett to Seattle in January of 1950.

While much was missed by not having Everett Murray to interview, the photographic knowledge and memories provided by his son leave a good account of the photographer. What remains of his work in the collection housed at the Everett Public Library is significant. Taken as a whole, Murray's photographs stand up well. Certainly no photographer can count every occasion a success and for the commercial photographer who works when he is paid to work, there must be many off days. Photography was obviously an art and craft to Murray, but it was also his livelihood. He was paid by business to photograph business for the purpose of making more business. The Weyerhaeuser photos need to be seen for what they are, company photos that leave a particular view of the industrial setting. In this case, Murray was hired to showcase the new plant, not to show daily work or workers at the plant. Only a few people appear in the photos.

Murray's pictures are excellent examples of the best of 1930s photography through the subject of work. But while photographers like Walker Evans and his Farm Security Administration photographers presented powerful views of migrant farm workers, Murray shows the corporate side, the mills and plant settings. The new plant construction at Weyerhaeuser was encouraging to Everett workers who hoped for better economic times and these company improvements were directly giving Murray and Juleen Studio some welcome and immediate cash.

Murray's effective use of geometrical design in the industrial setting was certainly not new in the mid 1930s and he was not its creative innovator, but regardless of how lost Murray's name seems now, he was known and respected in his time. He always had work and many friends. As one older photographer recalled, "He didn't have to advertise, everyone knew him" (Wahleen interview). Few cities can claim a better local craftsman and it's amazing that it took milltown Everett so long to find its best visual spokesman.


John A. Juleen photo collection, Everett Public Library, Everett, Washington; Margaret Riddle, interviews with Everett Murray Jr. and Eric Wahleen, Everett, 1982, notes in possession of Margaret Riddle, Everett; Margaret Riddle, "Photographer Everett Murray and His Work," Journal of Everett and Snohomish County History, No. 6, Summer 1983, pp. 21-29.

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