Benjamin Clayton Markham was born September 11, 1881. In 1900, at the age of 19, he headed west from Illinois to New Whatcom, Washington, near Bellingham where he was an engineer in a logging camp. His younger brother Ora, who was 18, convinced Ben to quit the logging business and buy two cameras so they could become partners. Ora moved from Peoria, Illinois out to New Whatcom and they started taking picture post cards of the lumberjacks in the logging camps.
The Markham brothers moved on to Seattle, then to Portland in December 1903. Ben worked for Woodard Clark Company, one of the largest photo supply houses in the Northwest. Several months later, they split up and went their separate ways. Ben moved to San Francisco and worked at a photo supply house. Ora went to Everett, Tacoma and Spokane, then to Oakland, California before traveling throughout the country.
Both Markham brothers moved back to Portland. Ora arrived in 1911, buying the Marcel Studio and building a very successful career as a portrait photographer; and Ben in 1912, where he worked at the Blumauer Photo Supply Company. In 1914, Ben teamed with his boss, Nelson Pike and bought out Blumauer. The Pike & Markham Company operated until 1919 when the partnership was dissolved. Markham became an automotive mechanic for several years.
In 1925, Ben moved to The Dalles where he set up a new studio at age 45, in a town dominated by the Gifford Studio. He specialized in photographing Central Oregon farmers, their families and their hired hands. His legendary views of Native Americans in authentic dress are highly sought after today.
Markham survived the initial shock of the Great Depression in 1929, but eventually sold his studio to Everett Olmstead on April 14, 1933. Markham retained most of his negatives and moved to Portland again, where he continued to sell post cards. In the next few months, Ben became the Staff Photographer for Olds Wortman and King, one of Portland’s prominent department stores. By 1939, Markham became the manager of Olds and King’s Camera Department and he continued to sell post cards of his work from the 1920s. On December 25, 1942, B.C. Markham died of a heart attack at his home.