and Lantern-Slide Lectures
the mid-1870s, between reporting jobs, Jacob Riis
began an advertising business. He purchased a stereopticon
and developed slideshows consisting of advertisements
interspersed with photographs of people and places.
Riis presented his slideshows outdoors on a sheet
tied between two trees, or indoors on a window screen.
The popularity of these slideshows later convinced
Riis to use visual imagery to convey to the public
what he saw each day on his reporting beat.
In 1887, Riis learned of the development of a magnesium-cartridge
pistol lamp that enabled photographers to take pictures
in dim-lit settings. He thereafter determined to
use photography to document conditions in Mulberry
had no experience with photography, so he asked
Dr. John Nagle, chief of the Bureau of Vital Statistics
in the City Health Department, and two other amateur
photographers, Dr. Henry G. Piffard and Richard
Hoe Lawrence, to accompany him to Mulberry Bend
to take photographs of tenement and lodging house
interiors. In his autobiography, The Making of
an American, Riis described the group's activities:
"It is not too much
to say that our party carried terror wherever
it went. The flashlight of those days was contained
in cartridges fired from a revolver. The spectacle
of half a dozen strange men invading a house in
the midnight hour armed with big pistols which
they shot off recklessly was hardly reassuring,
however sugary our speech, and it was not to be
wondered at if the tenants bolted through windows
and down fire-escapes wherever we went."
soon tired of the outings, and he had to resort
to other means. Dissatisfied with the results of
a professional photographer, Riis decided to take
his own photographs.
In 1888, Riis purchased a 4 x 5 wooden box camera,
plateholders, a tripod, a safety lantern, and developing
He traveled to Potter's Field, a gravesite for the
poor, to take his first pictures. By trial and error,
he learned how to take a proper exposure. He later
used a frying pan with magnesium powder to create
When Riis made an inspection with the sanitary
police one night in Mulberry Bend and submitted
a report to the Health Department the next day,
the officials did not respond until Riis showed
them his photographs of lodgers in filthy quarters.
Riis recalled, "I had at last an ally in the fight
with the Bend." 
Riis gave his first
illustrated lecture in January 1888 to his photography
club. The title of the lecture was "The Other
Half: How It Lives and Dies in New York." Riis
later lectured at churches, civic improvement
organizations, reform groups, and middle-class
social and camera clubs throughout New York.
Like many late-nineteenth-century
photographers, Riis created lantern slides of
his photographs to accompany the lectures. He
used music to dramatize the slides and make the
lectures a form of entertainment as well as instruction.
He also adopted the persona of a tour guide leading
his audience through the slums. 
positive response to the lantern-slide lectures
demonstrated to Riis the possibility of reaching
a wider audience through the publication of a book.
The opportunity came in 1889, when an editor from
Scribner's magazine contacted Riis after
attending one of his lantern-slide lectures.
The editor hired
Riis to write an article for Scribner's,
which appeared in the December 1889 issue. Riis
expanded the article into a book, How
the Other Half Lives, which was published in