Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lantern Slide Shows of Washington State: 1910-1939

Here is a fun image collection from the Washington State Digital Archive: Lantern Slide Shows from the Washington Department of Conservation from between 1910 and 1939. [Unfortunately I cannot link directly to the images--you will need to go to the DA site, then Keyword Search => choose "Photographs" from the drop-down menus => then under "Record Series" select "Show All Records."] These arresting images show Washington State at a pivotal time in the decades just before the Great Depression. We see modern scenes of battleships in Seattle Harbor, images of farming, and early highways along with beautiful scenes of nature across the state. (To the left we see Monroe Street Bridge in Spokane.)

These slides were made for use with an early version of the modern slide projector, the "magic lantern." The picture of the magic lantern to the right is from this page at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, which provides this helpful description of the devices:

Magic lanterns are an early equivalent of today's slide projectors, with a few important differences. First, magic lanterns used fire instead of electric bulbs to illuminate the slides. A second difference was the shape of the slides. Today's slides are often made of lightweight, thin plastic or glass, and come in single frames. Magic lantern slides came in strips of large, bulky pieces of glass held together with metal or wood. They often contained mechanical features that allowed limited movement of one or more slides within the projector, a feature no longer found on modern slide projectors. Lastly, many magic lanterns could display images of greater complexity than today's slide projectors.

The slides in the Digital Archive Collection feature many interesting and historically important scenes from early 20th century Washington. And many are by Asahel Curtis. Asahel was the brother of infamous photographer Edward Curtis and an important figure in his own right--but that is a subject for another post. Here are a few of my favorites of these slides:

Cattle herd at Grand Coulee:

This image has a wonderful 19th-century feel to it and is a reminder that mush of Washington State was still very rural and undeveloped in the early 20th century.

Alhambra Cabins, Soap Lake:

I love this picture of early automobile tourism!

In the loggers wake, clear cut debris:

There are a whole series of these illustrating environmental degradation, which is quite surprising for a set of slides produced by the state government.

Speed Boat Racing, Lake Chelan

The boat in the center has an almost 3D effect.

H.C. Bohlke with poultry at Grandview

Finally, a boy and his chicken:

There are over 250 of these wonderful images at the Washington State Digital Archives, so come pay us a visit!


Anonymous said...

How can you call Edward Curtis "infamous"? Perhaps you've mixed this negative word with with famous? Edward's lesser known brother was a better than average photographer and probably deserves more recognition, but not at the expense of his far superior photographer brother--who was in no way infamous.

Larry Cebula said...

Perhaps a better phrasing is that Edward Curtis *should* be infamous! I am actually doing some research on Curtis right now and I am by no means a fan. Edward Curtis staged his photographs, put wigs and inappropriate costumes on his subjects, shoved his subjects into the shadows and engaged in various dark room chicanery to produce portraits that were not of real Indians but of the stereotyped figures in his head. Curtis' Indians are old, broken, and doomed because he worked hard to portray them that way.

I have given a couple of presentations on this topic. I should do a post on Curtis but it is too big a subject for the blog format! Watch for my next book--due no time soon.

Larry Cebula said...

For clear-eyed assessments of Curtis see Christopher M. Lyman, The Vanishing Race and Other Illusions and Mick Gidley, Edward Curtis Incorporated.