Photographing Montana 1894-1928:
The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron
1991 Best Work of Non-Fiction, Mountain and Plains Booksellers Association
“If you tried to make Evelyn Cameron up, nobody would believe you. This aristocratic Victorian Englishwoman (her half brother was Lord Battersea, a big noise in Gladstone’s cabinet) was an expert equestrian, an avid hunter, a loving wife, a fine writer, an observant naturalist, an accomplished rancher and, above all, a superb photographer.
She arrived in Montana as a 21-year-old bride in 1889. She had gone there with her husband to hunt, but they fell in love with the place and stayed on. In 1894, Evelyn bought a camera—the newest toy of the middle class—and became passionate about it. The pictures she took of eastern Montana between 1894 and her death in 1928 comprise one of the most gorgeous records of the eccentricities of frontier life ever seen. Weddings, funerals, sheep shearings, bronco bustings, towns that looked like jokes about towns, eerie badlands, cowpokes, ranch owners, school teachers, merchants, English gentry playing cowboy and all manner of wildlife on the hoof and on the wing—she went after everything around her. After she died, the photographs sat in a friend’s cellar for half a century before they were rediscovered.
In Photographing Montana, Donna Lucey, the writer who recovered Cameron’s work, draws heavily on Cameron’s diaries and photographs to draw a double portrait of an exceptional woman and a landscape unimaginably wild and lonesome looking … Cameron photographed her subjects with abiding and egalitarian respect. Men, women and children of all economic and ethnic backgrounds stand on an equal footing before her camera … For all her self-effacing documentarian instincts, she was an artist in spite of herself. Time and again the visual poetry of line and shadow confound the chaos of frontier life without erasing a scrap of its rough jingle-jangle. This wonderful book rescues an astonishing photographer from oblivion.”—Malcolm Jones Jr., Newsweek
A rediscovery of the look of life on the American frontier at the turn of the century. A stunning book that also rediscovers a great photographer—herself a romantic figure—whose extraordinary work is here reproduced for the first time.
In 1889, Evelyn Cameron left the English world of country gentry into which she had been born and, with her husband, Ewen, took up ranching on the barren plains of eastern Montana. When their initial venture—raising polo ponies—proved unprofitable, Evelyn became a photographer, developing her pictures in a cavelike darkroom dug out of the hill against which stood the hardscrabble house she and her husband had built with their own hands.
In 170 extraordinary photographs selected from thousands of glass-plate negatives and original prints discovered fifty years after Evelyn Cameron’s death, we see how she and her neighbors lived in Montana from the 1890s through the 1920s.
And, through excerpts from her diaries and letters, we follow Evelyn Cameron’s own transformation from a daughter of the English upper classes adrift in a strange, harsh land, to a frontier woman relishing the independence and pervasive dangers inherent in frontier life. In Photographing Montana, we witness the making of a true citizen of the American West.
A magnificent book, beautifully designed and printed.