Island History

Photographer Ray Jerome Baker

From 1908 until 1960, when he retired as a professional photographer, Ray Jerome Baker (1880-1972) photographed countless individuals and scenes throughout the Hawaiian Islands and practically every street, street corner and building in Honolulu, his residence for 62 years.

Baker’s last significant work occurred in 1960, when he decided to revisit and perhaps once again photograph places he’d first photographed during several yearly trips to the Neighbor Islands in the early 1900s, beginning in 1908.

On Kaua‘i, he brought along the same 5-by-7-inch folding view camera with 7 1/2-inch and 12-inch lenses he’d used on a visit to Kaua‘i in 1916 — an antique he declared took better pictures than modern cameras.

While the guest of manager Grace Guslander of Coco Palms Hotel, he recalled that in 1910, he had hiked to the foot of Hanapepe Falls, lugging along a cumbersome box of 11-by-14-inch glass plates and an enormous wood-framed camera and tripod. He’d also rode horseback to many locations and noted that a ride to Hanalei by buggy from Lihu‘e required an overnight stop along the route.

During Baker’s stay, W.J. Senda, Kaua‘i’s leading photographer during the first half of the 20th century, commented that it was Baker who had inspired him to become a photographer in 1908, when Senda was then a cook at Lahainaluna School on Maui and Baker was traveling from town-to-town taking portraits. Senda began with a two-dollar box camera and left a heritage of great photography.

Baker also collected and preserved numerous 19th century photos of Hawai‘i. After he retired, he donated his collection of over 20,000 historic photographs to Bishop Museum — a selection of which can be seen in “Hawaiian Yesterdays,” an oversized book first printed in 1982.

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