I’ve found a little more evidence that Lovecraft’s friend Everett McNeil was rather a good cameraman, at least with still subjects. I spotted that he won $5 in a Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly photography contest for August 1909. $5 was a healthy amount in 1909. This was about the time he was successfully entering the movie-making business, then located in New York City. He was a few years into having ‘made it’ in New York City, and to be able to make good pictures like this one imagines he might have then invested in a better camera and developing equipment. He appears to have often entered prize contests in writing, probably influenced by his farming father David McNeil who had been a regular winner of most of his district’s agricultural produce prizes. Now we know that his son also entered photographic contests.
The Lovecraft circle knew that McNeil had ‘walked to New York’ circa 1894, and I rather suspect he earned his way as a travelling photographic portraitist. Possibly going from his home in Wisconsin to Quebec and then down the Hudson Valley to reach New York. In a letter Lovecraft indicates that McNeil had known the city of Quebec well at some point, and the life of a young itinerant photographer was realistically depicted in his story “The Photographing of Billy Oreamnos” (1909). In this a young man travels in rural Canada with his camera and gear…
… in search of Canadian dollars and dimes in exchange for more or less artistic photographs of the natives.
In 1912 a magazine published McNeil’s professional-quality architectural pictures of General Knox’s headquarters. McNeil’s later fine self-portrait with his New York City room as surrounding background (see my book on him) also shows a professional’s skill in composition and lighting.
I can’t be more certain than that about a possible early career in photography. But these fragments of evidence do seem to point that way. He was around age 32 when he left for his long walk to New York, and it was likely a ‘now or never’ try at reaching and ‘sticking’ in the big city. A photographic skill would be a natural method by which to pay one’s way, and the civilised English-speaking parts of what is now eastern Ontario might have offered good prospects — better than the stolid monotony of the Ohio farmlands and then the hillybilly backroads of the Pennsylvania mountains.
A likely route to New York