Photographing Montana 1894-1928

Although her half-brother married a Rothschild and lived in aristocratic splendor, Evelyn Jephson Flower chose to marry a man fifteen years her senior and without prospects. Ewen Cameron was also from a respected and landed but somewhat impoverished family; he was interested in wildlife and lived for a time on a remote island in the north of Scotland where he could observe his beloved sea birds.

The Camerons joined a small colony of British gentry and aristocrats who had settled in the wide and bleak stretches of eastern Montana, where they could command vast tracts of land and hunt to their heart’s content. What distinguished the Camerons was their genuine taste for the hardships of pioneering and their intellectual curiosity. Ewen continued his studies of wild birds and published his findings in ornithological journals in America and England. Evelyn kept a detailed journal-diary in which she recorded with total honesty and stunning lucidity the domestic trials of pioneering, the chores of farming—all the grim details of birth, life, and death as well as the quiet pleasures of guests, musical evenings, and her many pets.

She also took photographs. The simple Kodak box camera was already in vogue in 1894, but Evelyn chose to “wrestle with the intricacies of dry-plate glass photography.” Her camera lacked an adjustable shutter, so she had to expose negatives manually. After only two weeks of instruction by her boarder, Mr. Adams, an amateur magician, she was able to develop and print her own pictures. Within days she was photographing ranch hands, neighbors, and family portraits. Her reputation for focused and reliable work netted additional income to the Camerons from local farmers and various ethnic communities in the area. She was invited to photograph homesteads, festivals, and social gatherings. The many surviving plates now constitute an invaluable historical record of the peoples settling in turn-of-the-century Montana.

Her greatest photos, however, are of landscape and animals; eerie rock formations and the many exotic birds in the area. She also did brilliant photographic studies of livestock, horses, coyotes, wolves, and dead game nestled in snow against bleak winter skies.

This is a handsome volume, and Donna Lucey has edited the diaries and arranged the photographs to maximum effect.