Nelson E. Edwards (1887-1954) was born at Point Pleasant, WV, the second of the nine children of Jake and Margaret Edwards. Before Nelson’s first birthday the parents decided to homestead near Plevna, KS, which today is a community of 97 persons located in Reno County, about thirty miles west of Hutchinson. Although they started out in a sod-roofed dugout, their wheat crops were successful and eventually they had a large home with outbuildings. Jake Edwards served as a County Commissioner and was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1914 and 1916, but this was all after Nelson had left in 1908 to study photography.
By 1910 he was learning from a photographer in New Jersey who was associated with Thomas Edison, in 1911 Nelson was experimenting with aerial photography and in 1912 he went to work for William R. Hearst’s International News Service in New York. A biographer has described Nelson as “a tall, muscular man with prominent cheekbones, a hawk nose, lighthouse eyes peering out at the world from under heavy eyebrows, and thick, dark hair which photographed jet black”, and also “stocky [and] … quite large”.
Nelson began to experiment with cinematography and in 1914 landed his first newsreel job. He covered the Mexican Revolution, including shots of Pancho Villa himself. Later in 1915 Nelson took his cameras to Europe, where he filmed scenes and battle action on the Eastern Front for screening in German and American theaters.
In early 1916 he accompanied Field Marshal von Mackensen on his official visit to the Ottoman Empire. To see actual footage click here.
When the US declared war, Nelson volunteered to shoot film for the US Army Signal Corps. Four of his brothers also volunteered and one, Hobart Edwards, was killed in action in the Meuse Argonne offensive.
After the war Nelson went on to Fox News, then Paramount News, then free-lanced based in Baltimore. Three of his brothers also became newsreel photographers, as did Nelson’s son Robert Hobart Edwards, who was killed in WW2.
For more information click here.
Source: Cooper C. Graham and Ron van Dopperen (2012). “Nelson Edwards and the Newsreels: An American Life. Film History (vol. 24), pp. 260-280. ISSN: 0892-2160.
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