L. W. Halbe
Working at his father's candy shop in 1908, 15-year-old L. W. (Leslie Winfield) Halbe of Dorrance discovered a small box camera among the shelves. Curious, he began to take pictures and thus embarked upon a four-year stint as a commercial photographer. In the process, Halbe produced a visual record of rural and small-town life in the pre-World War I Midwest that has few equals.
Self-taught but talented, the teenager snapped pictures all over Dorrance and surrounding Russell and Ellsworth Counties with an inexpensive Sears and Roebuck camera. His studio was a tent in his parents yard-his darkroom the family bathroom, and, then later, the basement. But, despite his lack of training and modest equipment, Halbe's work was of exceptional technical quality and he achieved a close rapport with his subjects that yielded natural expressions and poses.
A professional from the start, Halbe charged 25 cents each or three dollars per dozen for picture postcards, and business was good. Everything was fair game for his camera--agriculture, businesses, machinery, homes, recreation, and, of course, people. Quite unintentionally this commercial activity resulted in a remarkable portrait of Kansas during the transition from the 19th to the 20th century.
In 1912 Halbe left Kansas to attain a law degree at the University of Missouri and abandoned commercial photography. Later, he settled in Florida, working as an appraiser until his death in 1981. But from 1908 to 1912, L. W. Halbe created more than 1500 images that have since appeared in Time-Life publications and in exhibits by the Smithsonian Institute and the Kansas Historical Society. A brief interlude in a young man's life, L.W. Halbe's photography brilliantly captured a Kansas that is no more.
View L. W. Halbe photographs in Kansas Memory.
Entry: Halbe, L. W.
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2004
Date Modified: June 2011
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