Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-xvii

Maps

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pp. xviii-xx

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Preface

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pp. xxi-xxxiv

One day in 1916, twenty-eight years after he retired from the photography business, Allen Christopher Oxford demolished the shed that held his old glass negatives. At age eighty-one, he planned to buy a car and build a garage on the site of the shed (figure 0.2). His five-year-old granddaughter, Sarah Rogers, was visiting that day. For the rest of her life, she recalled the crash of breaking glass as men shoveled her grandfather’s negatives into a truck.1
Oxford saved some of his old prints, however, pasting them into an album, along with this dedication to his daughter “Josie,” Josephine Oxford Rogers:...

Acknowledgments

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pp. xxxv-xl

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1. “Engraved by the Sunbeams”: The Daguerrean Era, 1839 to the Mid-1850s

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pp. 1-20

On Friday, January 17, 1843, the Mobile Daily Register and Chronicle published an enthusiastic description of daguerreotypy, penned by the city’s first daguerrean, New York merchant John Armstrong Bennet.1 Daguerreotypes had been made in the state since 1840, but no Alabama writer had published a better description of the new technology. Bennet wrote:

This invention of a celebrated French Chemist, by which light is caused to produce a picture superior to every effort of genius, is justly considered one of the most extraordinary discoveries of the age.... The value of a portrait depends upon its accuracy, and... the likeness produced [by this process] will be the exact image of the object from the same causes which enables a perfect eye to see. The precise expression of the face... in its minutest features will be at once and forever fixed; engraved as it were by the sunbeams, and as the operation seldom exceeds a minute, and is often finished in a few seconds, it is evident that the expressions of the face may be fixed in the picture which are too fleeting to be caught by the painter. By such flashes of the soul we remember our friends, and these cannot appear on canvas.2...

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2. “All Kinds of Pictures”: Competing Technologies, 1855–1861

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pp. 21-44

On May 15, 1860, Gardner Ingalls, a portrait painter turned photograph colorist, charged in Mobile City Court that the city’s premier photographer, Chauncey Barnes, owed him $950 (nearly $22,000 in 2015) for his services. After Ingalls lost, he appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, where Judge R. W. Walker upheld the lower court’s decision. In his ruling, Walker characterized photography as a craft, “not one of the fine arts.” He also noted that the most important attribute of a good portrait is its accuracy. Judging the faithfulness of a portrait requires no special skill, he said, and is best done by the sitter’s immediate family and closest friends. Judge Walker’s remarks apply to most of Alabama’s nineteenth-century photographic portraits. Whatever their medium, apparent likeness almost always trumps artistic concerns.1...

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3. “The Ambrotypes and Bible I Sent by Mrs. Culver”: Wartime, 1861–1865

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pp. 45-66

On New Year’s Eve 1909, long after the death of Montgomery photographer A. C. McIntyre, his niece, Toccoa Cozart, found his 1865 account book.1 It included receipts for Confederate bonds, a bank report involving a fortune in gold, and McIntyre’s record of his wartime adventures. Exempt from military service on medical grounds, McIntyre sat out the war in Montgomery, donating his fortune to the new nation. In late 1864, he left the city to smuggle his remaining wealth—$115,000 in gold (worth $1,500,000 in 2015)—through enemy lines to New York and then to England, to help the Confederacy. En route, he married Mattie Goode, whom he had met in Montgomery.
Before the newlyweds crossed the blockade, McIntyre decided that traveling with the gold was dangerous. He returned it to his bank, directing the bank to smuggle the equivalent to Liverpool. Once in New York, he decided that “the Cause” was lost, and that it was suicidal to try to reach England. He planned to...

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4. “Remember That I Want a Picture”: Photography, 1865–1880

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pp. 67-90

On April 18, 1870, at a bazaar held to raise money for a local orphanage, the first ice manufactured in Mobile made its debut in “one of the mammoth punch bowls on Mrs. Cassidy’s table.” On April 24, the Mobile Daily Register reported: “The Ice Factory.—Mr. T. H. Hughes has sent... an admirable photograph of the interior of the Mobile Ice Manufactory, taken by him on the occasion of the drawing of the first batch of crystal loaves on last Tuesday morning. The initial sample of the ice was sent to the Bazaar the previous night, and the rest taken out in good condition the next day. Mr. Hughes being on hand with his apparatus to make a perfectly authentic record of the event.”
Hughes’s stereograph shows the ice factory on Royal Street: the shed, steam-powered machinery, apparatus to contain the smoke and soot, and a few small slabs of ice (figure 4.2). At the time, natural ice was a costly, imported luxury; manufactured ice was uncommon until the mid-1880s. The factory was not long in operation. As Hughes’s view suggests, it required an enormous amount of equipment, power, and housing to create a minute amount of ice....

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5. “My Bud, A Rather Good Looking Somebody”: Likenesses, 1880–1929

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pp. 91-116

On the morning of September 22, 1884, a cortege carrying Chauncey Barnes’s body moved slowly to Lot 43, Square 10, Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile. His interment cost $6 (about $137 in 2015).1 Chief mourners were his wife and married daughter, but many Mobilians and upriver customers had reason to lament his passing. He had served them well for many decades.
It was the end of an era. No other photographer then working in Alabama had opened a business at the dawn of photography and been successful for forty years. Nor had any other living Alabama photographer seen such an array of costumes before his portrait lens: the high collars and fitted frock coats, stiff bodices and bonnets of the 1840s; the fancy vests and wide ties, hoop skirts and ruffles of the 1850s; the uniforms and mourning dress of the Civil War era; and the boxy jackets and narrow ties, the curls and bustles of the 1870s and 1880s. Barnes successfully weathered portrait photography’s shift from the production of rare, unique luxuries to inexpensive ubiquitous multiples. His example would...

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6. “One of Our Most Remarkable Views”: Outdoor Photography, 1880–Early 1900s

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pp. 117-138

On Thursday, September 16, 1886, State Geologist Eugene Allen Smith, leader of the annual expedition of the Geological Survey of Alabama (GSA), took some photographs near Prattville. Then the survey party set up camp. Anderson Moore, the black driver and general factotum, parked the Studebaker wagon, raised its tent and side room, and put a kettle, pot, and skillet at the ready (figure 6.1).1 While Smith sat with geologist Henry McCalley at a folding table, he turned the camera over to scientist D. W. Langdon, the only expedition member not in the photograph. Langdon took “No. 35. View of wagon and camp, Prattville. 4:30 p.m., mostly in shade,” as Smith recorded the shot in his journal.
The scientists had come to study the site of Pratt Mills, a producer of cotton and woolen cloth and the nation’s largest manufacturer of cotton gin equipment. The mills, powered by a sharp elevation change on Autauga Creek, are on the fall line, where the Appalachians abruptly yield to the coastal plain. Alabama’s many fall line rivers make this geographic feature, distinctive to the eastern United States, especially significant to its early settlement patterns, transportation, and industry, meriting historic as well as scientific assessment....

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7. “Make Pictures! Always . . . the Song . . . in My Head”: On Location, Early 1900s–1929

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pp. 139-162

On a damp afternoon in 1915, the lights in No. 216 were on when Oscar V. Hunt photographed the Birmingham Railroad Light and Power Company car rounding the corner of 20th Street and Avenue E, Ensley (figure 7.2). By then, Ensley was part of Birmingham, but its former independence had created a genuine downtown, defined by multistory buildings one block beyond this view, and by the car tracks that connect Birmingham with its defining industrial landmark, a monumental range of blast furnaces. No. 216, built in Saint Louis in 1901, ran until it was scrapped in 1939.1 Hunt photographed it on June 4, 1902, its first day on the line, and again in 1916. The businesses can also be documented. Italian immigrants Joseph and Jacob Pumilia first appear in the 1910 city directory as shoemakers, but by 1915, with manufactured shoes widely available, they had become shoe repairers, as the sign of the pointing hand indicates. Three years later, Jacob was repairing “auto tops,” a new job that used his old skills, and he had moved his family away from working-class Ensley....

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8. “From Alabama”: Illustrated Books and Art Photographs, 1880–1941

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pp. 163-186

In 1990, Jean Martin, director of the Selma Depot Museum, found a paper bag in a filing cabinet there. It held forty-three photographs by Mary Morgan Keipp (figure 8.1). Martin discovered that after Keipp died, some of her photographs were stored in her nephew’s garage. Much later, his widow discovered them. Many were ruined. She brought the salvageable ones to the museum where, over time, they were forgotten.
Martin recognized the significance and quality of these images. So did the Birmingham Public Library, which made large-format copy negatives and prints for the museum to exhibit, so that it could archive the originals. Some years later, the National Museum of American Art (Smithsonian American Art Museum) in Washington, DC, acquired two anonymous turn-of-the-century photographs of African Americans. These striking works had an impressive provenance: they first belonged to art photographer Joseph T. Keiley, then to photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and more recently to the noted collector and gallerist...

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9. “Photography Was One of My Hobbies”: Snapshots, 1889–1941

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pp. 187-206

On a sunny day in the 1890s, a baseball game was under way at Spring Hill College on Mobile’s west side. The men’s college fielded its first intercollegiate baseball team in 1889; it played home games on what is today one of the oldest college diamonds still in use.1 A spectator, probably male like the others on the sidelines, photographed the action with his first-generation Kodak box camera (figure 9.2). He sighted along a “v” embossed on the top of his camera or printed on a card that came with it, depending on which version of that first Kodak he had.2 He steadied the camera. He pulled a string to set the shutter, pressed its release button to expose the film, and wound it to the next negative. Since the camera had no exposure counter, he may have jotted down a number and a note about the shot....

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10. “Things Began to Change”: Local Photography, 1929–1941

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pp. 207-228

On August 27, 1937, a processor stamped “Lollar’s Birmingham” on the back of a 5 × 4" photograph of a smiling woman and two boys (figure 10.1). Later, the unknown photographer inscribed it “in the vicinity of Searles, in Tuscaloosa County,” referring to a mining community hard-hit by the closure of its coal mines and coke ovens that had fueled Birmingham’s steel mills. Fortunately, in a year when the Depression bit deep in north Alabama, the individual who shot this cheerful group could pay for one of the finest images made in the state in the 1930s.
The subtle tonalities and the use of natural light to emphasize the faces show the maker’s expertise with a large-format camera. However, the image’s greatest distinction comes from the easy rapport between the trio and the viewer, all the more remarkable when one considers how hard photographer Lewis Hine strategized to create a similar accord. Its compact design supports its warm, compelling intimacy. It is the happiest of yard pictures, viewed close up....

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11. “Designed . . . For the Government”: Farm Security Administration Photographs, 1935–1941

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pp. 229-250

In 1978, forty-one years after Arthur Rothstein visited Alabama to take photographs for the Resettlement Administration, or RA, a New Deal federal relief agency, he vividly recalled his impression of the state’s eroded red clay soil. “Alabama,” he reminisced to Mobile historian Michael Thomason, “was a great orange gash across the face of the earth.” That great gash was the subject of one of his most memorable photographs (figure 11.2).1
In 1937, when poor land management had reduced many American farms to bleak wastelands, Rothstein sought a badly eroded farm that was an authentic local view but could also represent the nation. 2 In Walker County, he found a ruined field, a cabin, and a dejected young farmer. The photograph he created from these components still evokes hard, desperate times. Like others taken for the relief agency in Alabama during the Great Depression, it is part of an extensive photographic series that showed the urgent need to reclaim America’s wasted land and people and encouraged viewers to support federal efforts and appreciate their successes....

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12. “Foster Turned in Some Damn Good Pictures”: Project Photography, 1929–1941

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pp. 251-272

On September 20, 1940, L. C. Harmon, a photographer from the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, visited Storrsland, the Elmore County showplace of Seth P. Storrs, an influential farmer, cattleman, banker, and former state agriculture commissioner. To modernize his old cotton plantation, Storrs mechanized his equipment; electrified his house, barns, and tenant houses; and began to raise cattle. Advised by the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, or ACES, he planted seven hundred acres of kudzu as fodder. Harmon came to photograph the harvest (figure 12.2).1
In the 1930s and 1940s, ACES studied the erosion control potential of Japanese kudzu, and the USDA offered up to $8 per acre (worth $120 in 2015) as an incentive to plant it.2 If Storrs applied for the subsidy, as USDA interest in his kudzu experiment suggests, his government check may have totaled as much as $56,000 (nearly $850,000 in 2015). At Storrsland, kudzu culture depended on gasoline-powered vehicles and equipment. In one view, a mountain of kudzu lies ready for cutting with a mower blade attachment. In another, workers pile kudzu on a flatbed truck. In Storing Kudzu, S. P. Storrs Farm, workers load it into an airy forty-foot-tall drying barn that held 180 tons of kudzu....

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13. “How Little They Know”: Looking Forward, 1941–1945

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pp. 273-284

What A. C. Keily called photography’s “middle years,” between the world wars, ended with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. On Monday, December 8, 1941, Alabamians listened to the radio as President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked a joint session of the US Congress to declare war on Japan. To hear him, students at Alabama Polytechnic Institute, or API, listened to loudspeakers broadcasting the radio message from atop an automobile (figure 13.2). A photograph of the event links the US entry into World War II to Alabama. API was immediately affected; as a land-grant college, its Reserve Officers Training Corps, or ROTC, had to supply the military with trained leaders. From this moment, all Alabamians, some already involved in the buildup to war, became involved in the conflict....

Appendix: Who Shot Alabama? A List of Alabama Photographers, 1839–1941

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pp. 285-456

Notes

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pp. 457-500

Bibliography

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pp. 501-530

Index

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pp. 531-552