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Ambassador at the Court:
The Life and Photography of Effie Baker

by Graham Hassall

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Chapter 9


Some of the first Western Bahá'ís took photographs on their pilgrimages to the holy sites in Haifa and Akka, and these appeared in the Bahá'í magazine Star of the West. These photographers included Dr Edward Getsinger, whose photos were taken in 1900, Thornton Chase, who visited in 1907, and Curtis Kelsey and Clarence L. Welsh, both of whom visited in 1921. Dr Lutfullah Hakim took photographs from about 1920. Shoghi Effendi was himself a photographer, and took the 1919 photo of the Greatest Holy Leaf included as the frontispiece of Bahá'í World vol V. According to Ruhíyyíh Khánum:

His one single personal hobby was photography; he took superlatively artistic pictures of the scenery in Switzerland and other places during those early years...

In later years Effie took the opportunity to make transparencies from Shoghi Effendi's negatives, from which she later reproduced her own prints.1 In February 1925 both Effie Baker and Margaret Stevenson took photographs during their pilgrimage, some of which were reproduced in Star of the West.2 But unlike most photographers, Effie was skilled not only in matters of light and composition, but was proficient also in the complex procedures involved in the development of negatives, and in the making of positive photographic prints. In 1926 she even coloured photos of new gardens at Bahji using water colours and brushes.3 Her photographs throughout the period 1925-36 constitute the first comprehensive and sustained photographic record of the Bahá'í holy places by any single photographer.

Effie commenced taking photos at the request of Shoghi Effendi soon after she had settled in Haifa. She was fortunate to arrive in the same year that Shoghi Effendi was making preparations for publication of the first Bahá'í Yearbook. As its name suggests, the purpose of this publication was to record Bahá'í activities from around the globe. Its second volume, for 1926-28, was called Bahá'í World, and it has appeared under this title to the present time. Effie's contributions to the inaugural volume include her own portrait with a caption noting that she had accompanied Martha Root on her recent notable lecture tour of Australia (p.128). She may have been the photographer of several views of Mt Carmel (p22, p82). A photo of Hyde and Clara Dunn with Miss Amy Stevenson of Auckland, however, was most probably taken in Auckland by another photographer (p126).

Late in 1925 Effie produced five photographs at the request of Shoghi Effendi, specifically for inclusion in the second volume of Bahá'í World. The Guardian hoped, she mentioned to the Australian Bahá'ís in a post-card, that all Bahá'ís would endeavour to obtain a copy of the first volume.4 The second volume, 1926-28, included Effie's photos of Bahjí (6, 128, 131) and 'Akká (128); the sacred tomb of the Báb and Abdu'l-Bahá and views from Mt Carmel (12, 124, 126); and the graves of Dr J.E. Esslemont and Hají Mírzá Vakílu'd-Dawlih, who was a cousin of the Báb and chief builder of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár of 'Ishqábád (123). Also included was Effie's photo of Martha Root with the Melbourne Bahá'ís, taken in 1924-25 (29).

For volumes three and four of The Bahá'í World, (1928-30 and 1930-32) Effie acted as "Palestine photographic editor". Photographs by her included in volume three included views of Haifa (112, 314), the House of Abbud in Akka (127), the mansion at Bahjí (71), inner views of the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh (5, 11), the garden of Ridván on the banks of the River Belus near Akka (102), the interior of the Shrines of Abdu'l-Bahá and the Báb (22), the terraces on Mt Carmel (127, 283, 338, 352), and Abdu'l-Bahá's house at Haifa (123). Also included were several photos she had taken during her travels through Persia which were not included in The Dawnbreakers.5

Check whether Effie took the photos of Mt Carmel in Star of the West April 1925, (378) and July 1925 (520)

When first in Haifa Effie used a Kodak 1A-Autographic (Kodak junior), which used A-116 film. This was a"viewing camera" and was not the one used for reproductions. In 1928 the Candian Bahá'í Freddie Schopflocher had presented her with a PC size camera and an auto focus enlarger, with which she photographed new gardens, colouring and printing them (Schopflocher's wife Loral was also a traveller and photographer, so here was another friend who realised the importance of what Effie was doing). Schopflocher departed for the United States in January with the manuscript for the Bahá'í World, as well as numerous photographs printed for it at the request of the Guardian.


Here I am starting again. I had to stop to do something that was needed and then Shoghi Effendi wished me to print some photographs for the "year book". He sent them, and the manuscripts, by Mr Schopflocher, who left this morning. He has the whole contents sent to him and goes over it very carefully before it is given to the printer. There will be quite a number of plates I've done for him included in it this year.

In the mid 1930s Effie was capturing landscapes with a supplimentary lens, which had to be focused, but which obtained an image two and a half times the size of the fixed lens image.6

I wish to tell you a little about Haifa this afternoon. These incidents have been told me by Miss Baker who resided at the Western Pilgrim house for eleven years. To those who have embraced the Bahá'í Faith, Haifa is the most significant town in the world. For it is the pivot or centre of the activities of this Great Teaching which we instill into our breasts which will be the means of bringing the "Most Great Peace" to the world, which is at the present moment in such turmoil and strife.

Haifa has become a very important commercial town. Before the Great War it had a population of 15,000. When Miss Baker together with Mrs Blundell, her daughter and son, and Miss Margaret Stevenson from New Zealand, made the pilgrimage in 1925 the population had increased to 26,000. When Miss Baker left Haifa in 1936 there were over 75,000 inhabitants. Now the British Government has built the break-water which you can see in this photograph. It is the most important sea port for the Middle East. It also has the great pipe line which brings the crude oil for the Iraq Petroleum Companny from Mosel in Iraq - a distance of 1,800 miles. The head offices you can see in the picture marked No. 5.

You already know why it is so important to us because as I said before it is the Centre of Bahá'í activities and it is here that our beloved Guardian Shoghi Effendi resides and presides over all the phases in connection with this Great Revelation for this new age which it has ushered in.

Its supreme importance is the fact that here on the slopes of Mt Carmel lie the bodies of His Holiness the Báb (who as the fore-runner or the One who proclaimmed that the Promised One Bahá'u'lláh would appear and give the Great Teachings to establish peace and brotherhood in the world), and His Holiness `Abdu'l-Bahá. You can see the roof of the Holy Tomb where these sacred remains lie at the extreme left of the picture.

This panoramic picture was taken by Miss Baker from the slopes of Mt Carmel so you cannot see the terraces that lead up from Carmel Avenue, the long straight stree lined on both sides with olive trees. You will see the roof of a house with a cross on top of it. This was erected by a Christian Arab who was very bitter against the Bahá'í Faith. His home was situated on the right hand side of one of the Terraces leading to the Holy Tomb. He had electric lights on it and lighted them in the evening when the Holy Tomb is for one hour flood lighted by two powerful flood lights and turned into a structure of molten gold nestling amongst the beautiful trees and flowers which surround it. It was significant though that the cross (symbol of the past dispenstation) should be nestling beneath the shadow of the "Great Orb of Light" which has ushered in this new dispensation. I will give you some idea as far as I can how you approach the Holy Tomb from the home of `Abdu'l-Bahá (where Shoghi Effendi and his father and mother is, and other members of the family live), and the Western Pilgrim House in the Persian Colony. No. 1. is the Pilgrim House. No. 2. is the Old Pilgrim House where Dr. Esslemont (who wrote "Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era") passed away. No. 3. is the Home of `Abdu'l-Bahá and the white rooms on the top are Shoghi Effendi's study and library and where he does all his work, and his sleeping apartment. It is almost opposite the Pilgrim House. From here, we proceed along the Persian Colony (this is the name of the Street not a real colony).

We turn to the left into a small street which has the English hospital on the right hand side of the street, St. Lukes Church of England on the left (also the Persian Women's Pilgrim House). Again you turn to the right into Mountain Road. Passing on from here on the right you pass the Iraqi Petroleum Company's Office on the left, a little further on the High School for Girls - continuing along Mountain Street we take a sharp bend and now follow the road walking toward the west. Wending or way along here we first come to the Holy Tomb (surrounded by a beautiful garden) of the Greatest Holy Leaf the revered and beloved daughter of Bahá'u'lláh and sister of `Abdu'l-Bahá. A little further on we turn to the right and following a short road come to the Men's Persian Pilgrim House. Turning once more to the left you follow the line of Cyprus trees and then enter the garden which surrounds the Holy Tomb. Follow the little path marked ?? which brings you to the entrance of the Holy Tomb.

I will now end my talk by relating this incident which Mrs Corrine True told Miss Baker during her stay at the Pilgrim House in March 1925. One of the American friendes supplied an electrical plant for a beautiful searchlight to be installed on the top of the Holy Tomb of the Báb and one also on the Holy Tomb of Bahá'u'lláh at Bahji. The night they were lighted a captain bringing his ship into the anchorage at Haifa for the first time looked on his chart and found only one light charted, that of the light house on the extreme west end of Carmel. Not having another light marked he was confoused so anchored his ship out to sea for the night. Proceeding to anchorage in the early morning he at once reported the matter to the port authorities. They made enquiries and found that the light had been installed on the Holy Tomb by the electrician sent from America for the purpose and had been turned on for the first time that night. The significant part is that the Port Authorities instead of ordering the light to be dismantled marked it on the navigation chart little dreaming they had for all time established the identity of a symbol of the Great Light for this age.7

Effie sent copies of her latest prints to friends in all parts of the world. She sent to Ella Cooper in San Francisco prints of the courtyard steps of the House of Abdullah Pasha - the Master's house in Akka where he lived during his last imprisonment - which had been converted into a hospital. Mrs Cooper and her mother Mrs Goodall had visited ’Abdu'l-Bahá in this building in 1908 and had published an account of their experience under the title Daily Lessons at Akka 1908. Mrs Cooper had met visited Effie in England in 1925, must have been pleaased to learn from her all about the activities of Clara and Hyde Dunn, with whom she had much contact when they lived in California, and had corresponded in subsequent years. Others who received prints included Margaret Stevenson in Auckland, and Bahá'í friends in all parts of Australia. In addition to photographic work undertaken for publication, Effie produced photographs of new developments on Mt Carmel in the gardens at Bahjí for Shoghi Effendi to send to those who had donated the funds for this work. She also sent prints to Emogene Hoagg at the International Bureau in Geneva (an office distributing Bahá'í literature and information established in Switzerland), and to the American National Spiritual Assembly.8

In addition to taking photographs, Effie constructed for Shoghi Effendi scale models of new landscaping he was considering, to help him visualise his plan, examine it from every angle, and decide beforehand where improvements could be made.

Shoghi Effendi liked to visualize any undertaking he had in mind. He would tell me what plan or idea he had and I would construct models to scale and he would look at them from every angle and then suggest where improvement to the scheme could be made. It was always a pleasure to do things for him, as he was so appreciative of your efforts.9

Capturing the beauty of landscapes on film was an unappreciably difficult task. Effie once explained that photographing the Shrine of the Báb was made difficult by the unvarying visuual quality of the mountain background. The terraces did not show plainly, and even the stones barely contrasted with their surroundings. Effie tried panchromatic plates to get the best colour values.10 Other difficulties included the increasing rate of traffic in Haifa. Photographs of recent development of the terraces on Mt Carmel, which Shoghi Effendi asked be taken for publication in Bahá'í News, were taken before 5am, since traffic along the main avenue of the German colony soon after that time continued unabated until well after midnight.11

Less often, Effie photographed people. She was most likely the photograher of a portrait of Mountford Mills and Fujita which appeared in Bahá'í Magazine 1934, 25:1, p21. One of the most important photographs Effie took while in Haifa, that of Bahíyyih Khánum in 1931, was quite unplanned:

I was photographing the picture of His Holiness the Báb in her room and Fujita was there to assist me. I had asked Khánum two or three times if she would let me take a snap of her and as she seemed determined I did not press her. As she was sitting on the side of her bed watching me take the copy of the Báb's picture with great interest I thought I would ask her again as I had a spare plate. She said yes! After I had quickly focused the camera Fujita spoke to me and just as I snapped the bulb she said "what did you say Fujita?" and smiled, so that is how I got the photo. To me it is Khánum as I knew her. Some people say how thin and frail her hands showing the veins but I just love them for I knew the soft loving caressing touch of those lovely fingers.12

This photo of the Greatest Holy Leaf was first included in Bahá'í World 1932-34, 170. Many years later, following Effie's return to Australia, she wrote:

It was the last photo she had taken and it is just as I knew her. The frontispiece was taken by Shoghi Effendi years ago. I do not remember her like that at all. Khánum was a unique outstanding figure in the world. There was no one like her. She just surrounded everyone with love.13

The glass plate negative of this photo became one of Effie's most treasured remembrances of her years in Haifa. She kept it with her until she asked Collis Featherstone to take it with him to Haifa in November 1964, to present to the Universal House of Justice. He was most surprised to learn what was in the tin-box, and hesitated before undertaking such a delicate delivery. The glass was decades old, and he feared it might easily crack, but at Effie's insistence he delivered it to Haifa, and in due course Effie recieved from the Universal House of Justice acknowledgement of its safe arrival.

At the same time that Effie was providing such invaluable photographic work to Shoghi Effendi in Haifa, he had been requesting the Persian Bahá'ís to capture on film the many relics and sights associated with the heroic age of the Bábís.14 Not only was he concerned that many buildings were disappearing in the rush to modernise Persia's cities; he was engaged in his masterly translation of Nabil's Narrative into English. His wish was that this epic saga be published so that the Western Bahá'ís might gain an understanding of the first Bahá'í century, and he intended that a complete photographic record accompany the text he was preparing. When it was apparent that the photographs requested by the Guardian were not forthcoming, he chose to send his humble Australian maid-servant to accomplish the task. At the age of 50, Effie was offered the photographic assignment of a life-time, one for which her love of landscape, light, and chemistry, had been intuitively preparing her since her youth.


Photo of Haifa Bahá'í World 1932-34, 659.

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