Bisbee Photo Collection

Clarence E. Bisbee

Posted: November 4th 2013 - 8:20 AM

In 1906, Clarence E. Bisbee (1876-1954) came to the Magic Valley to photograph and document the area's growth. He came by invitation of an old friend, an editor of an early Twin Falls newspaper. Hired by the Twin Falls Land and Water Company, Bisbee began to take incredibly artistic photographs to help promote the newly developed Twin Falls irrigation tract. He photographed many aspects of the agriculture community, including sagebrush clearings, orchards laden with fruit, and prosperous new farms. He also captured the buildings of a burgeoning town, such as early church buildings, residences, and businesses, in addition to important architectural feats, such as bridges and the new power plant along the Snake River. In addition, he recorded community events, including parades, county fairs, and rodeos; he also took many portraits of the area's residents. With his pictures, he was able to show people all over the nation that this area was civilized and booming, which would hopefully entice them to come West.

Bisbee and his wife, Jessie, built a photo studio in 1914 in downtown Twin Falls. Their slogan for their business was "Life and Art are One," a concept they adhered to Bisbee Photo #1698: Clarence E. Bisbee standing with a stack of newspapers.very closely. The Bisbees flourished for many years; however, as the years progressed, more photographers came into the area and the Bisbees could not keep up. The once affluent couple started to lose everything, and in 1936, Bisbee lost his whole world when Jessie died. He continued the studio for just a few years more, and then officially retired. Bisbee died in 1954, virtually penniless. After Bisbee died, the glass plate negatives that he used to capture his pictures were sold at the estate auction. A few businessmen from Twin Falls combined their money and bought a number of the negatives. Through a series of donations and deals, the Collection was eventually acquired by the Twin Falls Public Library. Today, the negatives are carefully stored and preserved by the Library.

In 2002, the Library started a digitization project and scanned 2,450 glass plate negatives. These photos are accessible on a database in the Library's Idaho and Pacific Northwest History Room; a few are available to view (but not to download) on the Library's Flickr account. Over the years, the Library has been expanding the Collection, adding other early Magic Valley photographers such as O.A. "Gus" Kelker and Leah Amos, among others. The Collection now boasts over 5,000 photographs.

Photos from this Collection may be requested by correctly filling out the Photograph Collection Policy form, whichBisbee Photo #GB42: Clarence E. Bisbee posing with the camera he used for early photos. must be signed by both the requester and the Library Director. You can mail the request of what photos you want, in addition to the form to: Reference Desk, Twin Falls Public Library, Twin Falls, ID 83301; or The cost is 15 per photocopy, $1 per picture on photo paper, and $1 per CD (which can fit 15-20 photos). Shipping is $1.50. A research fee may be assessed. We highly encourage you to come in and look through the Collection if you are able, as staff is limited for research purposes.