One time someone was speaking to me about old immigrants, when they suddenly said something like "immigrants or pioneers." In some ways, the two words are mutually exclusive. When it comes to Italian Swiss immigrants from Ticino, the word "pioneer" comes firmly into focus. They were true self-determinists who needed no role models or nannies to try to motivate them. They settled in many different types of environments throughout California and Nevada, usually undeveloped areas. One such adventurous type was the well known photographer and Italian Swiss immigrant J.B. Monaco.
From the J.B. Monaco website:
"In 1875, nineteen year old J.B. Monaco arrived in the United States from his native Switzerland and immediately joined his older brother Louis in his Eureka, Nevada City Photo Gallery. For J.B., this would be the start of a distinguished sixty two year photographic career.
"The photographic collection of J.B. Monaco (1856-1938) includes a body of work impressive in scope and content. Not only did Monaco photograph the world around him, he painted, sketched, wrote and preserved a good deal of what he created. Thankfully, many of these images have been passed down and archived to the present.
"His unique Earthquake and Fire compositions convey not only drama but also the sense of a moment captured in time: a single frame of a larger moving picture. His recorded account of the disaster takes on an equally human dimension as it describes the saving of his own home from the approaching fire by means of a back yard well and a neighborhood bucket brigade. Even Monaco's hand-drawn map remains, pointedly displaying where the fire was turned back and his block of Russian Hill saved.
"In his lifetime, Monaco was considered the "Dean of North Beach photographers" and was most appreciated for his studio portraiture work of prominent San Franciscans and families, many of whom were neighbors in the City's Italian center. But his reportorial work stands out equally and impresses even more with the test of time. He used camera, pen and brush to document much of early Nevada and Northern California history.
"What Monaco leaves is a tangible legacy, both comprehensive and personal. Thousands of original prints and negatives are preserved. The Earthquake images have been used in numerous documentaries, photographic collections and historical publications. In all, what he left surpasses the work of one man and the detailing of his life and times. It is the story of a people as they endured and enjoyed experiences that would shape a bit of American history.
"In 1908 J.B. Monaco and his brother in law Domenico Battistessa visited '"The Old Country." They were both born in the Swiss Italian province of Ticino, J.B. in Verscio and Domenico in the small village of Collinosca next to Cerentino. J.B. chronicled the trip with over three hundred photos of Switzerland. Most of their time was spent in Vallemaggia where they still had family and friends. This section includes approximately fifty images from the trip."
J.B. Monaco website
About J.B. Monaco
Photos of San Francisco photographer JB Monaco's 1908 pilgrimage to Ticino
The website has many old photographs of San Francisco, including the 1906 Quake and North Beach.