J. P. Ball, African American Photographer

Success and Struggles in Cincinnati

In 1851, Ball again opened a gallery in Cincinnati, later moving it to another downtown location in 1853 and expanding it to include nine employees. "Ball's Great Daguerrian Gallery of the West" quickly became one of the most well known galleries in the United States, and was featured in a wood engraving in Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, April 1, 1854.

Interior of Ball's Daguerreotype Salon
Interior of Ball's Daguerreotype Salon

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Ball's work was featured in exhibitions of photography at expositions held in 1852, 1854, 1855, and 1857 at the Ohio Mechanics Institute. At the 1857 exposition, Ball and another photographer won a bronze medal for photography

In 1855, Ball, along with a team of African American artists, embarked on one of his most significant works - a large panorama titled Mammoth Pictorial Tour of the United States Comprising Views of the African Slave Trade; of Northern and Southern Cities; of Cotton and Sugar Plantations; of the Mississippi, Ohio and Susquehanna Rivers, Niagara Falls & C.

Title Page of Mammoth Pictorial Tour
Title Page of
Mammoth Pictorial Tour

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This tremendous work consisted of 2,400-square-yards of canvas. Ball wrote an accompanying pamphlet detailing "the horrors of slavery from capture in Africa through middle passage to bondage." The panorama, first exhibited in Cincinnati at the Ohio Mechanic's Institute, was also shown in Boston.

"the finest photographic gallery west of the Allegheny Mountains"

In the 1850s Ball's business prospered and he soon opened another gallery. He hired his future brother-in-law, Alexander Thomas, around 1851-52. Thomas became a full partner in the business in November of 1857. Ball & Thomas soon became known as "the finest photographic gallery west of the Allegheny Mountains."

In 1856, Ball traveled to Europe. Cincinnati newspaper accounts of Ball's European trip report that he photographed Queen Victoria and author Charles Dickens.

Ball Studio advertisement from 1851-1852
Ball Studio advertisement
from 1851-1852

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Ball's reputation drew many renowned names to his studios in Cincinnati, including Frederick Douglass, Ulysses S. Grant's mother and sister, Jenny Lind, well-known abolitionists, and many Union Army officers and soldiers

He photographed Queen Victoria and author Charles Dickens

Ball dissolved his partnership with Alexander Thomas in March 1860. Ball's younger brother, Thomas C. Ball, continued as a studio photographer in partnership with Alexander Thomas until Thomas's death in 1875.

In 1871, J.P. Ball left Cincinnati. Ball experienced financial difficulties between 1865 and 1871. He lost a substantial amount of money as a result of "unfortunate speculations" and his assets were liquidated at a Constable's sale in 1868, though he continued with limited funds under the supervision of the Bankruptcy Court.

In 1870 Ball gave his son an interest in the business and the firm's name was changed to Ball & Son. R.G. Dunn's classification of the firm as a poor credit risk may have been a motivating factor in Ball's decision to leave the city and seek opportunities elsewhere.

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