On that first day this photo was taken from the St. Francis Hotel, showing the city in flames. Less than 24 hours later the St. Francis would also have been gutted.
Behind that crumbling facade of human invention stood a man with an active, analytical mind. One man taking action would change what others refused to see because of those tragic days. Arthur C. Pillsbury would capture in film a lesson that would change all of our lives. The sound and sight of a city burning awakened him to a human truth.
The accompanying photo went out around the globe, carrying the enormity of the event to human eyes. As catastrophic as that event was it vanishes into nothingness compared to the specter we face today from our own government.
Some disasters are natural; some happen because of what we fail to understand.
San Francisco had no disaster plan because the corrupt city administration was far more interested in continuing to enjoy the graft and privileges that come with power. Emergency workers were untrained; the preparations that had long been asked for had never been enacted. Many buildings blown up to create fire breaks simply burst into flame, spreading the conflagration and destruction. Both looters and the innocent were gunned down by the military contingent that would never be held accountable. The corrupt officials also evaded liability.
Accountability is something government learned to avoid early on.
San Francisco survived. Eventually sanity returned and the people came together to rebuild. Sometimes even in the face of completely incompetent care the patient lives.
The image above was taken by Arthur C, Pillsbury on that first day. It was a day that changed his life's focus.
Pillsbury had just left his job as the photojournalist at the San Francisco Examiner to start his own photography business, the Pillsbury Picture Company, a month before. For the next weeks he caught the immediacy of events as people struggled to survive and save what they could from the consuming flames. His developing facility, located in Oakland, was the only one functioning. Orders poured in from across the globe.
Later the same year he used the profits from the San Francisco photos to achieve a long time goal and bought the Studio of the Three Arrows in Yosemite.
In Yosemite he found other systems that were failing to do their jobs.
The Cavalry, then in charge of the Park, had long made a practice of mowing the meadows to provide fodder for their horses. Pillsbury noticed that the number of wild flower species was decreasing every year in those areas and also that the Cavalry was not concerned. So, applying his skills as an inventor he built the first lapse-time camera to be used with plants, producing the first motion picture image of a wild flower gracefully raising its head to the sun. By than he had been showing and narrating nature films for two years.