When I started researching 19th century Colorado photographers several years ago, I wondered how many Black photographers worked in the state. So far, I have encountered very few. In honor of Black history month, here is a brief glimpse into the career of John Green.
Remarkably, John Green worked in Denver as a photographer for more than 40 years, yet hardly any of his photographs survive today. Tracking down details his life has been complicated as John Green is a fairly common name and official records provide inconsistent information.
Green was born circa 1854 in Canada to an Irish mother. Census data provides conflicting information about his father’s ancestry, varying from the West Indies (1900), South America (1910) and Australia (1930). John Green’s race is listed as mulatto in the 1910 and 1920 censuses, but as White in the 1930 census. He may have identified as White due to the rise in Klan activity in Denver at this time.
Green first appears in Denver in the 1885 city directory as a colored photographer with his photo business at the corner of Blake and 18th Street. The 1887 Sanborn map shows his studio was located in a photo car, probably an old rail car.
Green’s earliest work, tintype portraits of Black and White sitters, are found in a few public and private collections. This in itself is unusual. Most tintypes are unattributed. Green carefully assembled the iron plates (not tin as the name implies) into paper sleeves, stamped with his name and address on the back. When the cabinet card format became popular, Green switched to that style of card mount.
In 1889, Green photographed the Colorado House at the Capital. This photograph is not known to be extant. A few years later, Green moved to a permanent building at 1337 18th Street. In 1910 he moved again, this time to 1952 Arapahoe Street.
John Green never married and I have not been able to track down any siblings. Green died on May 24, 1930, and is buried at Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery. Unfortunately I have not found a detailed obituary for Green. Like many photographers of his time, his story has been lost to the past.