Photo partners documented history

Juneau was fortunate to have resident photographers like Winter and Pond

Posted: Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Many American towns of a few thousand residents have little by way of photographic record. However, Juneau is fortunate that its early years were documented extensively not only by tourists, prospectors, mountaineers and ethnographers passing through - usually during summer months only - but also by resident photographers, both amateur and professional.

Take the case of professionals Lloyd V. Winter and E. Percy Pond. Juneau was a mere child of 12 years when Winter and Pond opened for business in 1893. Their studio on Front Street advertised portraits as well as souvenirs such as totems, carvings, baskets and "curios." They stayed for 50 years, recording the great changes as the little gold mining town evolved into the political capital of the Alaska Territory, taking photos of Tlingits in transition wearing traditional ceremonial clothing - but also wearing hard-soled boots and with watch chains just visible under their Chilkat blankets.

And the partners were not content to stay put and record every high school graduating class or every ship that pulled into the Steamship Wharf. Carrying fragile glass plates, they ventured out into the boonies to camp in tents at scenic places such as the Taku Glacier. They traveled by boat and train to Skagway and Whitehorse. They took photos of Tlingits and Haidas in their winter villages as well as at their summer fish camps. For example, they took photos of Klukwan, probably in the winter of 1894-95, including shots of the interior of the Whale House, famous for its painted and carved Rain Screen and its sculpture of the mythical Woodworm. They took photos of the Haida village of Klinquan on Prince of Wales Island. And they were in the Haida village of Howkan in 1897.

They photographed totem poles and even wrote a pamphlet called "The Totems of Alaska." They recorded some poles which were 40 and 50 years old, and others that had just been commissioned. However, like most of their contemporaries, they did not always appreciate the sophistication of Northwest Coast art, and referred to them as "rude carvings" with an "uncouth and barbarous appearance." On the other hand, the same pamphlet refers to designs on Chilkat blankets, woven into baskets and carved into bentwood boxes as "showing a high order of artistic conception and execution."

Another of their publications was "Types of Alaska Natives." In fact, Winter (1866-1945) and Pond (1872-1943) became so well-known for recording traditional activities such as potlatches and dances that they were adopted into a Tlingit family. They took more than 350 known photos of Tlingits, including graveyards and burial scenes.

It is possible that this Native Alaskan emphasis in their work was influenced by the interests of Lt. George Thornton Emmons, an ethnographer who was in and out of Juneau in the 1880s and 1890s and knew Chief Kowee. Emmons took many photos documenting subsistence activities such as roasting porcupines and drying seaweed, as well as photos of ceremonial regalia and dancers arriving in canoes for a berry feast.

On the other hand, when Winter and Pond arrived in Juneau, hard rock mining was the main industry of the area. Thane, Douglas, Treadwell, Windham Bay and other mines were thriving. In their five decades in this area, the pair took 1,200 mining photographs - nearly four times as many as they took of Tlingits.

Some of their earliest work can be seen in the University of Washington Press book by Victoria Wyatt, "Images from the Inside Passage." The photographs in this book include prints from more than a hundred glass plate negatives taken between 1893 and 1910. The book was published in association with the Alaska State Library, which is home to the gloriously far-ranging Winter and Pond Collection, PCA 87 - subtitled "Southeast and Alaska-Yukon related views, 1893-1943."

The entire collection embraces 3,100 images. The Juneau Gold Belt District and the Juneau and Douglas town sites account for 655 images, with 215 images of ships, 300 of glaciers and 100 dedicated to the Klondike gold rush. One of the latter is a panoramic view of mountain scenery, taken leaning out the window of a carriage on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway (PCA 87-2961).

Some of their photos were pure promotion, like PCA 87-651, "Starting for the Yukon from Juneau, Alaska," circa 1896. This is a snowy winter scene depicting two heavily loaded sleds being pulled by prospectors, accompanied by three other men, some toting snowshoes. What road were they taking? (Obviously, Winter and Pond knew that in this era much of the world Outside had only vague notions of where the Yukon was, and wouldn't understand that there were no roads connecting there and here.)

They documented wildlife in photos such as the portrait of a bald eagle sitting on a stump or a pair of wild deer. They documented history by immortalizing events such as the first Taku River excursion to British Columbia in September 1917, and Baldy of Nome, Scotty Allen's famous lead dog, the winner of $25,000 in sweepstakes prizes. Naturally they took shots of humorist Will Rogers' visit to Juneau with Wiley Post in August 1935, but they also took photos of ordinary women sitting in their flower gardens.

They immortalized the Juneau high school basketball team and coach H. G. Hughes in 1922, and the 1924 team with coach N. I. Baker. It wasn't easy to set up one of the ungainly cameras of the era, which often required long exposures. Developing was a difficult process. But still they took photos of everything from labrets to land clearing, from waterfalls and sunsets to vacuum cleaners, from knives to billiards to bridges. Their collection includes everything from locally made corkscrews to thieves, school teachers to ship disasters, plank roads to Presbyterian missions.

One of the reasons the Winter and Pond collection is so varied is that the partners were competing with photographers like Harrie C. Barley, Asahel Curtis, W.H. Case, Dobbs and Nowell, Larss and Duglos and Eric A. Hegg. Hegg had studios in both Bellingham and Dawson City during the Klondike gold rush. Many photos were made into stereoscopic view cards or postcards - good sources of income for those who created them.

When he was not taking photos aimed at making money, Winter amused himself with self-portraits. He made his own Christmas cards with his portrait on them and also took photos of himself picking lupine, leaning on an automobile, and reflected in a barber shop mirror.

• Southeast Sagas is a series that appears in the Juneau Empire every other Wednesday. Its aim is to profile people and describe events that help to shed light on the varied history of this region of Alaska.

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