Lessons In Light

An Eclectic History Of Early Photographers.

By Margaret Regan

Photographers in Arizona, 1850-1920: A History and Directory, by Jeremy Rowe (Carl Mautz Publishing). Hardcover, $35.

IN THE LATE 1850s, one Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives steered the riverboat U.S. Explorer deep into the Colorado River. Arriving in the lower depths of the Grand Canyon, Ives made what may be the first photographs of what has become one of the most photographed subjects in the world.

Books Ives, part of a U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers expedition that mapped the Colorado River in 1857 and 1858, no doubt had no idea what he had wrought when he made those first Grand Canyon pictures. He couldn't have had any inkling that what he considered the remote wilderness of Arizona, with its sweeping Indian lands and sleepy Mexican towns, would soon become a magnet for photographers of all stripes.

Jeremy Rowe's new book contains a 30-page essay, some 100 images and a formidable annotated directory of the period's photographers. It chronicles the arrival not only of subsequent expedition photographers, including the great Timothy O'Sullivan, but the small army of unsung itinerant photographers who roamed Arizona in Territorial days. These characters, many known only by last name or studio, dragged hefty camera equipment across deserts and mountains, upriver and down, to make pictures of Indians and soldiers, of miners and prostitutes, of fledgling settlements springing up uncertainly in an unforgiving land.

Only a few won any lasting fame. Camilius S. Fly, a Michigan native who came to Tombstone in 1879 to open a studio with his wife, Mary, had the good luck to photograph the capture of Geronimo. "Geronimo and Members of His Band," in the book, shows the defeated Indians during a break in negotiations over their surrender. Geronimo, on horseback, looks disconsolately at the camera. Fly sold his Geronimo suite to the national publication Harper's Weekly in 1886; and he reproduced them widely elsewhere. They were also widely pirated, Rowe notes, depriving Fly of some earnings. The photographer is memorialized in Fly's Peak in the Chiricahuas.

Apparently even the photographers who didn't get Fly's big break managed to eke out some kind of living. As the century wore on, the photographers' stereographs and collodion print images, often translated into etchings, found a ready market in a nation with an insatiable curiosity about the Wild West. Some of the more talented expedition photographers took luminous portraits of the land for a government eager to promote development, while commercial interests also hired on shutterbugs to lure miners West to work in their enterprises or settle along the railroad. And as the population grew, and grew more settled, studio photographers such as Tucson's well-known Henry Buehman earned a fine living as portraitists.

The pictures in Rowe's book range from these early days up until the time of statehood, when large commercial photography businesses were already supplanting the hardy freelancers of a more freewheeling time.

The author, who works for Arizona State University acquiring and caring for vintage photographic materials, is also an avid private collector of historic Arizona images. He explains in the book's essay that he chose to reproduce the relatively obscure pictures from his own collection "rather than repeat images readily available from other sources."

That choice makes the book eclectic rather than encyclopedic. While there are some troop shots by O'Sullivan, the Irish-born photographer who first showed his talents in the killing fields of the Civil War, the collection doesn't include his magnificent landscapes. O'Sullivan's pictures of such places as Canyon de Chelly are pioneering works whose austere modernist edges make them still respected today. And though there's an early picture of Tucson by the noted Carleton Watkins, the book does not include the works of other great expedition photographers, such as John Hillers and William Bell, or the Indian images of Edward Curtis, who made many enduring photographs of the Hopi.

The text is packed with information, though its short length prevents Rowe from undertaking fuller discussions of such important issues as the cultural conflicts over Indian photography, the original archetypes for today's canyon and cactus clichés, or even the alluring quality of Arizona's light. Nevertheless, Rowe has assembled a charming collection of pictures that give photographic immortality to our anonymous Arizona ancestors. The book shows fires, protests and snowstorms, early tourists, Indian warriors and university students. An 1874 picture by one Dudley P. Flanders shows a circus performing in the open air in Tucson. A Douglas prostitute in a soldier's uniform poses for an unknown photographer in 1915, during the Mexican Revolution. Hopis perform their Snake Dance surrounded by Anglos armed with tripods, in 1897.

A rare 1916 "real photo postcard" by George Dix memorializes the deportation of striking miners from Bisbee, one of the most shameful episodes in Arizona history. As Rowe notes, pictures of the crackdown were not widely distributed at the time. Yet photographs have a way of outliving their censors, and we have Rowe to thank for giving new life to Dix's picture of armed government goons depriving workers of their liberty. TW

City Week
Back Page
Search Archives

 Page Back  Last Issue  Current Week  Next Week  Page Forward

Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Books | Cinema | Back Page | Archives

Weekly Wire    © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth