John Nash Ott Collection

Collection Items

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On a Clear Day Eco Orig
Film
On a Clear Day Eco Orig
circa 1968
[Flowers Blooming - Originals]
Film
[Flowers Blooming - Originals]
circa 1955
[Dixieland] Dancing Flower
Film
[Dixieland] Dancing Flower
circa 1955
Time Lapse Dahlias
Film
Time Lapse Dahlias
circa 1952
Orange Original
Film
Orange Original
circa 1957
Out At Ott's / Miracle of the Bulb
Film
Out At Ott's / Miracle of the Bulb
1957
Oleander - African Violet - Carrion Flower - Orig'l
Film
Oleander - African Violet - Carrion Flower - Orig'l
circa 1954
Macy Parade
Film
Macy Parade
November 24 1977
Millburn Spots
Film
Millburn Spots
circa 1954
Ott Lab Inc. Muscle Test
Film
Ott Lab Inc. Muscle Test
circa 1979
[Clouds]
Film
[Clouds]
circa 1979
[Coffee Plant]
Film
[Coffee Plant]
circa 1962
Fertilife #4
Film
Fertilife #4
circa 1955
Lilacs
Film
Lilacs
circa 1955
Our Changing World
Film
Our Changing World
1950
[Pepper]
Film
[Pepper]
circa 1953
Fish 6-10-37
Film
Fish 6-10-37
June 10 1937
Tomatoe
Film
Tomatoe
circa 1947
Aphids on Orange
Film
Aphids on Orange
1940s
[Pollen Grain and Flower Stigma]
Film
[Pollen Grain and Flower Stigma]
1950s
[Pollen Grain and Activated Protoplasm]
Film
[Pollen Grain and Activated Protoplasm]
1950s
Annual Poppy
Film
Annual Poppy
circa 1950
Phlox
Film
Phlox
1950s
Gloxinia
Film
Gloxinia
1950s
Caliandra
Film
Caliandra
1950s
Red Pepper
Film
Red Pepper
circa 1953
Strawberries
Film
Strawberries
1950s
Tomato Worm + Praying Mantis
Film
Tomato Worm + Praying Mantis
circa 1947
Hydrangea
Film
Hydrangea
1940s
Geraniums (Pink)
Film
Geraniums (Pink)
1940s
Coffee
Film
Coffee
circa 1955
Geraniums
Film
Geraniums
circa 1957
Black Spot
Film
Black Spot
circa 1955
Nicotiana
Film
Nicotiana
circa 1953
Apple Blossom
Film
Apple Blossom
1940s
Brown Eyed Susan
Film
Brown Eyed Susan
circa 1953
Peas
Film
Peas
circa 1955
Trilium
Film
Trilium
circa 1947
Snap Dragons
Film
Snap Dragons
1940s
Dancing Flowers
Film
Dancing Flowers
circa 1941 – 1946
Water Lily
Film
Water Lily
circa 1952
Strawberries
Film
Strawberries
1950s
Venus Flytrap
Film
Venus Flytrap
1950s
Peonies
Film
Peonies
1940s
Shells
Film
Shells
circa 1952
Sundew
Film
Sundew
1950s
Geraniums
Film
Geraniums
1940s
[Lilies]
Film
[Lilies]
1950s
Pink Geranium
Film
Pink Geranium
circa 1955
Camelia
Film
Camelia
circa 1955
Butterfly
Film
Butterfly
circa 1944
Iris
Film
Iris
1950s
Cherries
Film
Cherries
circa 1952
Columbine
Film
Columbine
circa 1950
Spider Flower
Film
Spider Flower
circa 1950
Gloxinia
Film
Gloxinia
circa 1953
[1926 circa: Ott Family Home Movie]
Film
[1926 circa: Ott Family Home Movie]
circa 1926
Canna
Film
Canna Lily
circa 1956
Andy Blason Orchid
Film
Andy Blason Orchid
1950s
Plums
Film
Plums
circa 1952
[Marigold & Lantana]
Film
[Marigold & Lantana]
circa 1955
[Verbena & Cosmos]
Film
[Verbena & Cosmos]
circa 1952
Roses
Film
Roses
1950s
Fuchia
Film
Fuchia
circa 1952
Azaleas
Film
Azaleas
circa 1952
Tuplips
Film
Tuplips
circa 1955
Dogwood
Film
Dogwood
circa 1959
2 Rotodendron
Film
2 Rotodendron
circa 1950
African Violet
Film
African Violet
circa 1957
Squirl
Film
Squirl
circa 1956
Winter Scene
Film
Winter Scene
circa 1955
TL Agapanthus Orig
Film
TL Agapanthus Orig
circa 1957
Pollen Tube
Film
Pollen Tube
circa 1954
Peony Mum
Film
[Peony]
circa 1952
Pollen
Film
Pollen
circa 1956
Rhotodendron
Film
Rhotodendron
circa 1950
Spring Iris
Film
Spring Iris
circa 1957
Tomato Worm Etc
Film
Tomato Worm Etc
circa 1957
Orig Olivia NP
Film
Orig Olivia NP
1950s
Dahlia
Film
Dahlia
circa 1957
Dahlia
Film
Dahlia
circa 1955
Tomatoe
Film
Tomatoe
circa 1953
Carnations
Film
Carnations
circa 1952
Corn Worm
Film
Corn Worm
circa 1948
Pine Seed
Film
Pine Seed
circa 1957
Red Cactus
Film
Red Cactus
1950s
Red Cactus
Film
Red Cactus
1950s
Peonies
Film
Peonies
circa 1946
Peonies
Film
Peonies
circa 1956
Praying Mantis Tomatoe Worm
Film
Praying Mantis Tomatoe Worm
circa 1952
Tuberous Begonias
Film
Tuberous Begonias
circa 1952
Spring Bulbs
Film
Spring Bulbs
circa 1957
Bees Honey Dance Apple Box
Film
Bees Honey Dance Apple Box
circa 1957
Strawberries
Film
Strawberries
circa 1953
Strawberries
Film
Strawberries
circa 1953
Time-Lapse African Violets
Film
Time-Lapse African Violets
circa 1952
Time-Lapse African Violets
Film
Time-Lapse African Violets
circa 1952
Beans
Film
Beans
circa 1957
Adam to Atom
Film
Adam to Atom
1952
How Does Your Garden Grow: Introduction
Film
How Does Your Garden Grow: Introduction
1952
How Does Your Garden Grow: Dahlias
Film
How Does Your Garden Grow: Dahlias
circa 1953
How Does Your Garden Grow: Peonies
Film
How Does Your Garden Grow: Peonies
circa 1953
How Does Your Garden Grow: Roses
Film
How Does Your Garden Grow: Roses
circa 1953
How Does Your Garden Grow: African Violets
Film
How Does Your Garden Grow: African Violets
1953
How Does Your Garden Grow: From Blossom to Bottle
Film
How Does Your Garden Grow: From Blossom to Bottle
1953
How Does Your Garden Grow: Iris
Film
How Does Your Garden Grow: Iris
circa 1953
The Story of Wheat
Film
Story of Wheat
1955
Two Tomatoes
Film
Two Tomatoes
1954
Flowers Opening
Film
Flowers Opening
1964
Dr. Fred D. Miller and The Gateway to Health
Film
Dr. Fred D. Miller and the Gateway to Health
1954
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To request more information about the items in this collection, please contact the archive at info@chicagofilmarchives.org.
Items with Viewable Media
Collection Identifier
C.2022-09
Extent of Collection
427 reels of 16mm film totaling approximately 111,000 feet; 1 reel of 35mm film totaling 84 feet; 1 1/4" magnetic audio tape totaling 1200'.
Language Of Materials
English
Custodial History
The collection was donated to the Winnetka Historical Society by John Ott's son, James Forgan Ott, in 2014. The WHS transferred the films to Chicago Film Archives in autumn 2022. The films had previously been stored at Ott's home in Florida.
Related Materials
The film Secrets of Nature in the Margaret Conneely Collection features a behind-the-scenes look at Ott's greenhouse.

A print of Ott's film Plant Oddities is part of the Monica Ross Collection.
Access Restrictions
This collection is open to on-site access. Appointments must be made with Chicago Film Archives. Due to the fragile nature of the films, only digital copies will be provided for on-site viewing.
Use Restrictions
Chicago Film Archives holds the copyright to films made by John Ott Productions, Inc.
Creators
Ott, John Nash Jr. (was created by)
John Nash Ott, Jr. was born in 1909 to John Nash Ott, Sr. and Jessie Forgan Ott of Winnetka, IL. Ott started tinkering with time-lapse plant photography in 1927, when he was a teenager. After high school, he started working at First National Bank of Chicago, where his grandfather James B. Forgan was president. For the next 20 years, Ott continued to experiment with time-lapse filmmaking as a hobby while working at the bank. He did not go to college, and at no time did his formal education ever include any courses in botany, biology, horticulture, or photography.

Through the 1930s his hobby evolved into a side business, with Ott making short commercial, industrial and educational films for schools, lawn-care companies and other clients, while giving lectures and screening his time-lapse movies for local garden clubs. He gained a reputation as an amateur filmmaker and gardener, and in 1947, Ott quit his bank job and dedicated himself fully to a career as a time-lapse photographer under the banner of John Ott Pictures, Inc.

The self-taught Ott built an elaborate automated film studio in his home’s greenhouse over the course of the 1940s. He outfitted his studio with automated photofloods, iron window shutters, and an army of Bell & Howell Filmo Model 70 16mm cameras, loaded with Commercial Kodachrome film stock and mounted on dollies. He additionally installed automatic temperature, humidity, and irrigation systems to help with growing different species of plants. The nerve center of all of this was a complex setup of switch panels and controls hooked up to a timer. Thus while time-lapse was not new in motion picture photography, Ott’s automatic greenhouse was called “ingenious” by American Cinematographer in 1947. The cost of equipping the home studio was reported to be $100,000 in 1949 – more than 1.25 million dollars in 2023.

Ott began hosting a weekly gardening show on Chicago TV in 1948, called How Does Your Garden Grow? It included advice about growing flowers, time-lapse films of plants growing, and answers to readers’ mail. One reporter wrote in 1952 that How Does Your Garden Grow? was “a combination of the Fountain of Youth, a trip to California, and a sunny 70 degree morning in May. … The program is the very stuff of life for hog tied Chicago area gardeners who spend winters despondently riffling fingers thru the barren earth of a window box. Ott not only feeds house plants, he nourishes twitching green thumbs, too.” An article in an April 1954 issue of TV Guide titled “His Treasure’s in a Jam Closet” begins, “No Chicago TV star is looking forward to color television more than WNBQ’s wizard of time-lapse photography, John Ott. The striking films of blossoming plants and flowers that enhance his popular show How Does Your Garden Grow? are impressive even in black-and-white. Transmitted in color, they’ll carry a powerful impact.” In March 1955, How Does Your Garden Grow? was the first show broadcast in color by Chicago’s NBC affiliate.

In the 1950s, he made several successful educational films and was commissioned to work on time-lapse sequences in Disney’s Nature’s Half Acre (1951) and Secrets of Life (1956). He also made innovative microscopic time-lapse films of subjects like cancer cells and fungi which were of great value to scientific researchers during this period. By 1953, one Chicago Tribune article called him “the planet’s most renowned botanical motion picture photographer and the time-lapse film authority.”

Ott moved to Florida in 1966 and switched gears to studying the effect artificial light and other modern inventions had on human health and well-being. He wrote books on the subject, founded the Environmental Health and Light Research Institute in Sarasota, Florida, and produced a documentary in the ‘70s called Exploring the Spectrum. He developed and sold full spectrum lights called OttLites, and sunglasses called Ott Naturals that he claimed fixed a variety of ailments.

He married socialite Emily Fentress in 1935 and had two sons, James and John; the couple divorced in 1945. Ott served in the Navy from 1943 to 1945. He married Agnes Anderson Greenough in 1945, and they had one son, Henry. Ott died in 2000 at the age of 90 in Sarasota, and is buried in Chicago’s famous Graceland Cemetery.