Issue #244  9/25/2018
Western Photographers Bound and Biographied

By Matt Damsker

By Carl Mautz. With an introduction by Jeremy Rowe. Carl Mautz Publishing, Nevada City, CA. 772 pgs.; hardbound edition of 800 copies. $175. ISBN No. 978-1-887694-33-9. Information: http://www.carlmautz.com; cmautz@carlmautz.com; Phone: 1-530-478-1610.

This expanded and revised edition of Carl Mautz's "Biographies of Western Photographers” is one of those grand reference projects that collect a world's worth of data in a single tome that won't overload a scholar's bookshelf. In this case, Mautz has vital information on more than 20,000 19th-century photographers who worked 27 western U.S. states and Canadian provinces, along with itinerants who plied their trade throughout the vast continental regions.

Mautz has been diligently compiling and collecting this rarified information since 1972, and he gets help from experts to deepen the authority of this latest edition. Organization is key in an effort like this, and so the alphabetical index by state, province or category of all the listed artists is essential, along with a comprehensive bibliography, plus an essay from Mautz's previous 1997 edition on imprint collecting. There's also a wealth of identifying and categorizing information on photographs–including manuscript notations, stamps, logos, along with a dating guide and glossary by photo historian Jeremy Rowe.

Rowe provides a succinct context for the project in his introduction. As he notes: “Photographic research and publications in the early 1970s developed as a new generation focused on photographs as collectibles, cultural objects and research tools. Books like Richard Rudisill's Mirror Images extended earlier works by Gernsheim and the Rinharts. The scope, quality and volume of resources on the history of photography and historic images blossomed. Most of these new offerings focused on the stories and interpretations of photographs and the pioneer photographers who created them.”

Oregonian Mautz began decades ago with a thin, soft-cover publication call the Checklist of Western Photographers–with no idea that the pamphlet would grow into the research tool that this 2018 edition has become, nor give birth to the small press publishing company that now bears his name. For his part, Mautz writes that he “expected this volume to be concluded in 2009, after we had absorbed a massive amount of information provided in cabinet cards from Kansas and nearby states that were collected by Gene Miller of Wichita…“

Indeed, Mautz's ambitiousness drew out the timeframe for a completed project, but it was worth it, as he assembled six excellent essays on notable, but largely unknown photographers to add a great deal of dimension to the volume. He also received a letter from the great-granddaughter of Charles W. Carter, a significant early Utah and Mormon photographer, and the new facts about Carter helped him add an essay to the six others.

These essays impart depth and even drama to Mautz's project. John W. Ravage's essay on James Presley Ball (sometimes “Pressley”), for example, describes the life and work of a mixed-race Virginian who became an iconic daguerreotypist, initially under the influence of black daguerreotypist John B. Bailey of Boston. Presley moved around quite a bit, but by 1887, he established a Helena, MT, studio, photographing a wide range of subjects, with good examples of the varied racial and ethnic groups of the community, extending his “Ball and Son” brand to Seattle and, ultimately, a Honolulu studio.

Then there's the fascinating essay by Jennifer L. Lund, who explores the work of the significant early Utah (and surrounding states) photographer Charles W. Carter, who documented everything from the arrival of the first train in Salt Lake City to the 1880 visit of President Hayes, along with portraiture of Mormon leaders.

Del Phillips writes about Norman A. Forsyth, who was born in Syracuse, NY, but whose family moved to Nebraska in 1870, where he excelled at stereoscope views of Native American populations and Western sights, especially in the Montana region.

Jim Crain's essay on Frank Hardesty focuses on the San Antonio photographer whose single and stereo views of the burgeoning Texas town eventually led him to studio entrepreneurship in Los Angeles, CA.

Complementing these interesting accounts of little-known but accomplished Western pioneers of the medium is research by Paul Hickman, Glenn Mason and Peter Palmquist on the remarkable peripatetic output of Martin Mason Hazeltine, whose fine stereoviews and single shots documented the scenic wonders of interior California, Nevada, Oregon and much of the Southwest when it was being put on the map by farming and industrialization.

Pioneer Arizona photographer George H. Rothrock is the subject of Jeremy Rowe, who describes Rothrock's “trail of letters, articles and photographs which illuminate his life and twenty-five year career in Arizona Territory, California, and the West.” Rothrock had many partners and played a considerable role in the imagery that emerged from his vast regional attention.

The final essay, by Dorothy King De Mare, illuminates the life and work of Clement and J.K. Sutterly, New Jersey-born brothers who traveled and photographed widely in the West during the Civil War, documenting the Comstock Silver Rush and the Westward Expansion until the dawn of the new century. Emblematic of the many photographers referenced in Mautz's book, the Sutterly Brothers sampled and excelled in the range of 19th-century techniques, from daguerreotype to ambrotype, tintype, wet and dry plate, albumin and gelatin silver print, carte-de-visite, stereoview and cabinet card. They are the pioneering stuff of Mautz's lovingly and carefully compiled life's work.

Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005. He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.

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