Photography on the South Texas Frontier: Images from the Witte Museum Collection
Bruce M. Shackelford
112 pages, hardcover, 10 x 10 inches, 80 illustrations
Compelling images of people in a region that in many ways remains a frontier fill the pages of this handsome book. The photographs, most published for the first time, are from the top-ranked collection of San Antonio’s Witte Museum. They catch South Texans during more than a century and a half of formal and informal moments in studios, at home, at work and at play.
All illustrations were scanned in color, yielding a range of tones that otherwise disappear when historic images are converted to black and white. The images are also treated as artifacts, preserving their patina of age and reproducing the original mountings and borders, which often bear elaborate typography. The oldest, a daguerreotype, was made in 1849, less than twenty years after the birth of photography. It pictures Major General William Jenkins Worth, a Mexican War hero for whom the city of Fort Worth is named.
Images of others in South Texas appear in tintypes, then cabinet cards, autochromes, photo postcards and snapshots. On the cover, a cowboy poses in the 1880s with his horse and rifle close at hand. Inside, firewood vendors pause with their burros in Laredo. The imprisoned Geronimo leans against a wall at Fort Sam Houston. Textile designers work in Brownsville. Mrs. Favre’s piano class picnics in San Antonio. In Starr County, a water hauler rides atop his wagon. In Atascosa County, J. Frank Dobie lounges beside a fence.
These carefully selected images and the accompanying text both portray the evolution of photography and offer unique perspectives on a distinctive frontier.
Author Bruce M. Shackelford, Brown Foundation Curator at San Antonio’s Witte Museum, is a researcher, writer and photographer who specializes in the history of the trans-Mississippi American West and North American Indian art and culture.