Newly discovered photographs show real West

April 07, 1991|By Linda Lowe Morris

PHOTOGRAPHING MONTANA

1894-1928: THE LIFE AND

WORK OF EVELYN CAMERON.

Donna M. Lucey.

Knopf.

250 pages. $60.

In 1978 Donna Lucey was traveling through the West doinresearch for a book on women pioneers when she heard of a woman in her 90s, out in the eastern part of Montana, who was holding a cache of old glass-plate negatives taken early in the century by her friend, a photographer named Evelyn Cameron.

The woman, Janet Williams, had resisted efforts by historians to look at the photographs, but Ms. Lucey persuaded her to let her visit.

"Finally," she writes, "I was allowed to venture down into the basement. There . . . I discovered over a hundred boxes full of fragile 60- to 80-year-old prints, glass-plate negatives, and film negatives piled up haphazardly. . . ."

She found more -- 35 diaries written by Evelyn Cameron from 1893 to 1928; articles on Montana wildlife handwritten by her husband, Ewen Cameron, a trained naturalist; letters; scrapbooks; newspaper clippings; their entire library, and even their clothes.

With these materials Ms. Lucey wrote "Photogaphing Montana", interweaving it all into a book with incredible immediacy and intimacy.

"Photographing Montana" is a book like few others. You will both love and be in awe of Evelyn Cameron from the first page. Born in England, the daughter of a wealthy East Indies merchant, she moved to Montana as the 21-year-old bride of a slightly eccentric, somewhat sickly, 36-year old Scottish man, but soon immersed herself in the life of the frontier.

She tells stories of butchering cattle, braving blizzards, taming wild animals, traveling to take her photographs, and being threatened with arrest for wearing the first divided skirt.

Her many extraordinary and hauntingly beautiful sepia photographs show the landscape, their ranch, portraits of local families and itinerant workers, hunters, sheepherders, cowboys on the fall roundup, the nearby town of Terry, and photographs she took of herself doing such day-to-day activities as kneading dough in the kitchen.

Ms. Morris is a writer for The Sun.

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