Ganaway participated in Dowie's evangelical movement while working as a waiter. He also met Pauline Barrew, probably at Shiloh Tabernacle Church, a rare religious institution where blacks and whites worshiped as equals.
The couple married in 1904 and had their only child, Lucille, born in 1906. Soon after, Ganaway found a job as a butler for a wealthy Chicago matron named Mary Lawrence, who lived on the 1200 block of North Lake Shore Drive. While working for Lawrence, Ganaway began teaching himself the art of photography, taking pictures on his one day off every two weeks.
This period of self-education culminated with Ganaway's best-known photo, "The Spirit of Transportation," a stylized look at the 20th Century Limited pulling into LaSalle Street Station in February 1918. In a profile in The American Magazine, Ganaway said it took two years to conceive the picture and that he was suspected by a policeman of being a German saboteur while taking the photo.
"Finally, I pointed to the beams of light and said, 'Did you ever see anything more beautiful than the way the light falls on the smoke?'" recalled Ganaway, who said the cop soon shared his enthusiasm for the photo.
The result was a masterpiece of light and shadow that first appeared in the Chicago Defender in 1921. That same year, the photo became a national phenomenon when it took first prize in the Wanamaker's Department Store National Photographic Contest, beating out offerings from Weston, Ray and Strand — three of the finest photographers of the early 20th Century.
Ganaway's career as a photographer took off after that. Forty years before the first black photographers were hired full-time by Chicago's daily newspapers (Chicago's newsrooms were almost exclusively white until the late 1960s), Ganaway was freelancing for such papers as the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Herald-Examiner, while also doing work for periodicals like Fort Dearborn Magazine and National Geographic, along with the Defender, the University of Chicago and numerous industrial periodicals and corporate groups.
Christopher Morley, a founder of the Saturday Review of Literature and one of the standout writers of the 1920s, wrote effusively about Ganaway. Fort Dearborn Magazine editor W. Frank McClure called Ganaway "the greatest photographer I ever knew."
For the Daily News, Ganaway took masterly photos of scenes like the last day of South Water Street in 1925, before that outdoor market was obliterated to make way for Wacker Drive. And he took atmospheric shots of trains, Southeast Side steel mills and barges on the Chicago River in the dead of winter.
"He was intrigued with industrial life on the waterfront and equally fascinated with water, massive structures, angles and elements of mysticism," wrote Deborah Willis in 2000, when she was curator for the Smithsonian Institution's Center for African-American History and Culture.
"I see pictures and designs in everything," Ganaway told The American Magazine. "As I am riding on a streetcar, I am constantly watching the changing lights and shadows along the streets. Using the car as a frame, I compose pictures."
Ganaway was able to quit his butler's job when he was hired in 1925 as the sole staff photographer for the Chicago Bee, a black weekly newspaper founded by Bronzeville insurance magnate Anthony Overton. During the 1920s and early 1930s, Ganaway also had his photos exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, at traveling exhibits sponsored by the Harmon Foundation and at the Century of Progress Exposition.
But Ganaway's photos stopped appearing in the Bee in the mid-1930s. U.S. census figures show him remarrying sometime in the mid-1920s to a black woman named Jennie, but the 1940 census has him still married but living alone as a lodger on the 6400 block of South Rhodes Avenue.
By that time he apparently had stopped taking photos professionally, instead becoming a Bible teacher at a local Unity Center and an active member of Greater Bethel AME Church on Chicago's South Side.
Ganaway died in 1944 at Cook County Hospital after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and was buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island.
"He was buried by his Bible students, God bless them," said Brenda Fredericks. "No one knew him well enough to give accurate information for his death certificate. And here was a man who, at the peak of his creativity, was so well-known in Bronzeville that some of his Defender photos were just credited to 'Ganaway.'"
What's worse, his photos and their negatives have largely disappeared.
A print of "The Spirit of Transportation" was bought a few years ago by a Pennsylvania couple from an antique dealer in Brimfield, Mass. The photo is now an issue in that couple's contentious divorce.
Meanwhile, Brenda and Tim Fredericks found the 1925 Daily News photo of the last day of South Water Street on eBay. And scans of layouts featuring Ganaway's photos in Fort Dearborn Magazine can be found online.
But almost all of Ganaway's work is missing, including all of his photos from the Bee.
John Gruber, president of the Madison, Wis.-based Center for Railroad Photography and Art, has been on the lookout for Ganaway photographs for the past decade, with little success.