Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Evelyn Cameron, Prairie Photographer

Evelyn Jephson Cameron was a Montana artist and photographer with a remarkable life.  Her story exemplifies what women throughout history have always done—created lives for themselves out of sometimes not very great raw material. 

Cameron was born to a wealthy British family.  She came to rural, remote eastern Montana in the late 19th century after her marriage to naturalist Ewen Cameron.  Evelyn initially found life there rewarding and stimulating, for all its challenges and hardships. 

Evelyn, ever cheerful, smiling on top of her horse

According to author Kristi Hager, Evelyn’s early life was one of wealth and luxury.  In Montana, everything was different.  She and her husband barely scraped by on the meager earnings from their ranch.  In fact, while Ewen was way studying wildlife, Evelyn took care of nearly all the ranch work alone.

Some of her chores included: raising a huge garden, chopping wood, digging coal, tending chickens, milking, breaking colts, skinning and butchering animals, branding, dehorning, and castrating cattle, baking, cooking, and keeping house with no hired help and next to no assistance from her husband (source:  Kristi Hager, Evelyn Cameron: Montana’s Frontier Photographer).

Somewhere along the way, Evelyn discovered her own passion through photography.  Over some thirty-plus years, she shot thousands of images of the landscape, people, and natural world around near the town of Terry, Montana.  Her work supported Evelyn and Ewen financially, and left posterity with a stunning record of this remote ranching culture and landscape. 


Self portrait with camera.

In addition to her photos, Evelyn recorded details of her life and world in thirty-five diaries.  Together, the diaries and photographic record are some of the best resources we have regarding life on the American Great Plains in the late 19th century. 

Milwaukee Railroad Workers, 1910.

 3108020207.jpg by normdwy3.

Marsh School House, 1914. 

About forty years ago, a former editor for Time-Life books, Donna Lucey, found Evelyn’s entire collection of work in the basement of Evelyn’s friend Janet Williams of Terry.  Lucey later wrote the best  biography introducing Cameron’s work to the public:  Photographing Montana:  the Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron.   


For more of Evelyn’s fascinating story, visit this blog entry at Shades of the Departed. 

Sources for photographs, in order:  

Self Portrait Kneading Bread, Montana Historical Society; Portrait on horse:  this one is available several places online and I don’t know the original source; Self portrait with camera, University of Montana Museum; Milwaukee Railroad Workers, 1910, Montana Historical Society; Marsh School House, 1910, original source unknown; Book cover:  Mountain Press. 


posted by Barbara (aka Sallymandy) at Chronologie Fine Vintage


Unknown said...

Looks like she thrived out there in the rugged. One would never know of the posh life she grew up in.

Susan B said...

Wow, those are some amazing photographs. What an extraordinary woman she must have been!

Lianne said...

I just love to read about women from the 19th century doing things that "didn't become" them, going against the norm, striking out on their own. Brave women who paved the way for us. Thanks for sharing.

PurestGreen said...

What a great post. I just love pioneer women. I'm dragging my beloved to Barkerville when we are in B.C. in September. This was once the biggest city north of San Franciso during the Gold rush, now B.C.'s best preserved ghost town.

The photos are remarkable. I often wish myself back to that time. Just for a day or so, mind. Because life was damn hard.

Lucy said...

So confident and willing to undertake it all- and with such dignity. Thanks for posting about her:)

Jean said...

Great post Sallymandy. I have always been interested in female photographers, but I had never heard of her. Her work reminds me of Dorothea Lange who is famous for photographing the American dustbowl of the 30s. I also love Diane Arbus' work, she managed to capture the extraordinary.

Thanks again.

Stephanie N. said...

What an amazing woman. Thanks so much for sharing her with us, Sallymanday.

drollgirl said...

love the photographs, and that is ONE AMAZING WOMAN!!!

hope you have a great weekend! :)

La Belette Rouge said...

I LOVE learning about women who were really such mavericks( I hate that that word has been corrupted). But, really, it is extraordinary to see women who did things that weren't considered to be the archetypal roles for women. Thank you for introducing her to me. I love that second to last photo. Gorgeous composition. And, OMG, LOVE her fox/coyote.

Saz said...

thank you for this, l have read about this lady before..great images..

Rosaria Williams said...

Great story; fantastic photos; historical records of a changing place.

Cynthia L. H. said...

Wonderful post, Sallymandy!!!
LOVE LOVE LOVE the photo of her with the coyote pup (fox or whatever)...
the smirk on her face is priceless!!! "Oh, yeah,...I can do THIS and THEN SOME!!!"
I will read more about her because YOU have started the intrique, My Friend!

Jen said...

It's so crazy how tan she was. It stands out a lot against that white hat.

I guess growing up on easy street was a little too boring. ;)

Unknown said...

those photos are fantastic! aren't we lucky for people like her and so many others that recorded their life, in photos or writings.

Zuzana said...

Beautiful post about a strong and capable woman. What an inspiration.

I love old photographs. When I was in Prague, we went to an exhibition of recently rediscovered old photographs taken by a soldier in WW1. It was incredibly touching and moving, particularly as some pictures were developed right there on the battlefields and bore signs of war...

Lovely post as always. Hope your weekend is great.)

LenoreNeverM♡re said...

Love all the pix-also love learning about women & their amazing history...Great post! Learn new things daily... Lovely weekend!

ethelmaepotter! said...

Now, that's a legacy worth leaving!
Thanks for bringing Evelyn Cameron's story to our attention. An amazing woman of some renown, in a time when women were relegated to clearly unrenowned status. And I find one of her most curious attributes to be that she apparently tamed a fox!

Woman in a Window said...

This is so fascinating to me. Holy heck, totally intriguing, down to the history of things held in each frame. My mouth was salivating over the enamelware bowl in the first shot and then all the social history, too. Cool. I'd love to get my hands on that book.

sallymandy said...

Thank you everyone for your comments here. I appreciate them, as usual. And so glad you liked the Evelyn Cameron work as well as I did. The best way to learn about her is to read the books I mentioned, because there aren't that many of her photos on the Internet.

S.M. ♥

studioJudith said...

Stunning images .. .
I must say, I'd love to have a photo
of my grandmother standing atop
a horse!


Carla Gade said...

What an amazing woman!
I enjoyed this post very much. Thanks!


Seeker said...

What a story of what it seems an amazing woman.

So Sallymandy, long time no talk.... do you still remember me? ;)

A new blog's look, I really like it.

I hope everything is fine with you, darling.
Tons of love your way.