Nelson Edwards, Cinematographer: Part 2

001 JakeEd03Serendipity is one of the pleasures that can happen when you blog.

Earlier, I wrote about Nelson Edwards’ cinematography career, but only the first part of it was available to read online.

So what a pleasant surprise when the two authors—Cooper C. Graham and Ron van Dopperen—not only got in touch but also sent me the whole issue.

Fascinating, well researched, and well written, their article summarizes Nelson’s professional career in photography and newsreels.


I finished my earlier post at the year 1912, when Nelson was working in New York City as a still photographer, part of the media empire headed by wealthy William Randolph Hearst.

After experimenting with the newly invented moving picture camera, and undertook his first major assignment in 1914, getting news films of the Mexican revolution, including capturing Pancho Villa–on film, of course.

He filmed Thomas Edison on the inventor’s 68th birthday, sailed to Europe near the start of WW1, on a ship provided by car manufacturer, Henry Ford, and photographed a new building in NYC while hanging 500 feet off the ground.

It wasn’t all pleasant. While covering a strike at Standard Oil in New Jersey, he was shot at and had bricks thrown at him, before escaping a mob of strikers by sheltering in a doorway. In the 1930s, in Maryland, he was in the dangerous situation of photographing a mob after an African-American man had been lynched.

Just before WW1 started, Nelson traveled throughout Europe and to Turkey, and later, he photographed actual trench battles on the Western Front. His material was shown in American theaters.  After the US declared war, Nelson and his four brothers joined the army.  One, Corporal Hobart D. Edwards, was killed in France, in 1918. After the six-day battle at Meuse-Argonne, only 27 survivors remained of Hobart’s 227-man company. Nelson named his son, born in 1920, Robert Hobart Edwards.

Discharged in 1919, Nelson returned home to his old job, and he married Cornelia Fisk.

Nelson pioneered aerial photography, starting in 1911, and this work included footage of the Navy’s 1919 transatlantic flight. He became the New York bureau manager and head cameraman for the new company, Fox News, covering human interest items, disasters, political events, and art. After moving to Baltimore, he joined another photographer, with clients that included businesses and government departments. In 1930, he was a freelancer for Paramount News. In 1935, he covered Lindbergh’s flight from Paris. As one of the White House photographers, he covered inaugurations and the activities of presidents, including Roosevelt and Truman.

Tragedy struck again during WWII. His son Robert had trained as a combat photographer and was supposed to organize the military photographers there. Instead, he volunteered to fly missions and was killed while over the English Channel. The article includes a photo of Robert with his newsreel camera.

Three of Nelson’s brothers also went into the ‘newsreel business’–E.K. ‘Chuck’ Edwards (Denver), Roy Donald Edwards (New York), and Curry Edwards (Denver). The article includes a photo of the four brothers, around 1948. Nelson also helped his son-in-law, David Wiegman, become a professional newsreel photographer.

Nelson died at home, in Maryland, in 1954, aged 66.

Source:  Cooper C. Graham and Ron van Dopperen . Nelson Edwards and the Newsreels:  An American life.  Film History: An international journal. vol. 24, no. 3, 2012, pp 260-280.


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