Picks and Pans Review: Photographing Montana, 1894-1928
by Donna M. Lucey
When Evelyn Jephson Flower, a wellborn Englishwoman, married Ewen Cameron, a Scottish naturalist, in 1889, the two honeymooned in the badlands of eastern Montana Territory. Many members of Britain’s smart set had taken to visiting the American West on holiday, and some even stayed to set up businesses.
The Camerons joined the settlers, first with the harebrained scheme of raising polo ponies to export to England (many of the horses died in transit) and later as cattle ranchers. It was soon clear these efforts wouldn’t pay the bills, and Evelyn took up photography to help make ends meet.
For more than 30 years, she took carefully composed pictures of what she saw around her—the land, the animals, the cowboys, who were soon to disappear, and the immigrant farmers who would eventually replace them. In 1979 Lucey (a sometime photo editor at PEOPLE) discovered Cameron’s work, which had been stored in the Montana basement of Cameron’s best friend. (While working on a book on women pioneers, Lucey had learned of the cache of some 1,800 negatives, 2,500 prints, letters, manuscripts and 35 years’ worth of Cameron’s meticulously kept diaries.)
Now Lucey has organized this raw material into a handsome book. Her scrupulously researched text makes it clear that despite the burdens of the pioneer life, it was just the life Evelyn wanted. As she wrote to a niece, “Manual labour…is about all I care about, and, after all, is what will really make a strong woman. I like to break colts, brand calves, cut down trees, ride & work in a garden.”
Lucey clearly admires Cameron both as a woman and as a photographer, though she is careful to keep her work in perspective, as a “visual record of the frontier.” And yet, she writes of the photos, “the best rise into the realm of art.” Most readers will agree as they linger over the fascinating images. (Knopf, $60)