hardworking photographer made the klondike famous

In 1898, cameras and darkroom equipment were very different than they are today.

In 1898, cameras and darkroom equipment were very different than they are today.

Bulky, cumbersome and heavy in the best of conditions, the contraptions and chemicals needed to develop an image would weigh a man down in the swampy muskeg or the bitter cold of the Klondike trail of 1898.

In winter, the developer would have to be heated before it could be used, and often a layer of ice would form over the chemicals.

The travails of the trail did not stop men like Eric A. Hegg, who helped the Klondike Gold Rush go down in history as one of the most photographed events of its time.

And Hegg’s photographs became some of the most iconic images from the gold rush.

“Taking pictures of Alaska was the hardest kind of work,” Hegg said in Klondike 98 by E. A. Becker. “I had to pack food, clothing and shelter as well as pack and protect my equipment. There was no sinecure to develop and print pictures in a tent, with a blizzard howling and freezing.”

Hegg was born in Sweden in 1868, and immigrated to Wisconsin as a child.

At the age of 15, Hegg opened his own photographic studio. A few years later he moved to Bellingham, Washington, and opened another studio.

By the time he left for the Klondike in 1897, Hegg was a self-trained journeyman photographer.

He started his northern operations in a shack, built from the remains of a boat, in Dyea and advertised Views of the White Pass and Dawson. He pitched a tent inside the shack to serve as a darkroom.

He soon moved his studio to where the action was, in Skagway, and took on an assistant, Per Edward Larss.

During the winter of 1898, Hegg travelled over the White Pass in a sleigh pulled by long-haired goats with a sign that read: “Have you seen Hegg’s views of Alaska? Photographs sent to all parts of the world,” according to the Index of Klondike Photographers complied by Greg Skuce and Sally Robinson.

Later that year, Hegg joined his brother and partner in Bennett and opened a studio, again with Larss as an assistant.

When the ice broke on Bennett Lake and the stampeders moved on, Hegg turned his operation over the Ephraim J. Hamacher, who later became a well-known Whitehorse photographer.

When Hegg and his entourage sailed from Bennett in June 1898, they took two boats – one was fitted with a cabin, which acted as a darkroom.

Hegg and Larss set up shop in Dawson and, after a season shooting images in the Klondike goldfields, Hegg travelled to New York to fetch more film.

While in the big city, Hegg showed his photographs and helped to make both himself and the Klondike famous.

Soon after he returned to Dawson, his studio was destroyed in the fire that struck Dawson on October 14, 1898.

Hegg and Larss moved to a new location, where they ran a studio together until April 1899, when Larss when into a partnership with Joseph Duclos.

Hegg followed the gold rush stampeders to Nome.

In 1902, after a bitter separation from his wife, Ella, who ran Hegg’s Skagway studio, he eventually left Alaska.

Over the next few decades Hegg lived in California, Hawaii and Washington.

He died in San Diego in 1955.

Hegg left more than 4,000 images of the North, many of which were sold to other studios that took Hegg’s name off the image and replaced it with their own.

This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail lchalykoff@macbridemuseum.com.

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