The Amazonian Annie Oakley
This memorable picture of Annie Oakley was taken by the Italian Court (and photographer) Giuseppe Primoli (1851-1927) as Ms. Oakley was in Rome with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1890. Sharpshooter Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Mosey, joined the troupe only five years before. Only 5 feet tall, Oakley was nicknamed “Watanya Cicilla” (Little Sure Shot) by fellow performer Sitting Bull.
While Europe, she performed for Queen Victoria, and other crowned heads of state. In Berlin’s Charlottenburg Race Course, it nearly turned into a disaster (or a blessing). Annie announced that she would shot the ashes off any man or woman’s Havana cigar. Normally her husband Frank Butler come out of the audience and her speech was just for show. Unexpectedly, Kaiser Wilhelm II accepted her offer; the police thought it was a joke until the Kaiser took his position and told the police to get out of the way. Annie Oakley raised her pistol, aimed and blew the ashes off Kaiser Wilhelm II cigar. When World War I started, Annie wrote the Kaiser asking for a second chance. The Kaiser did not respond.
Giuseppe Napoleone Primoli was born into a dynastic branch of the Bonaparte dynasty. Honored as “photography’s missing link” between Nadar and Cartier-Bresson, Primoli recorded picturesque Roman street scenes, political events, and the leisure activities of Europe’s glitterati, earning a posthumous reputation as a progenitor of action photography and the photo-essay. His pursuit of the instantané (the instantenous) was the precursor to the snapshot and HCB’s decisive moment. Guiseppe and his brother Luigi were the most prolific photographers in Italy. Exploiting the freedom granted by the new hand-held cameras, Giuseppe left behind more than 15, 000 images, while another 17, 000 were purportedly destroyed. The collection is now housed in the Primoli Foundation, Rome.