Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hedges and Holzapfel, "Through the Lens: The Original 1907 Church History Photographs of George Edward Anderson" (reviewed by Steve Eccles)


Title: Through the Lens: The Original 1907 Church History Photographs of
George Edward Anderson
Author: Andrew H. Hedges & Richard Neitzel Holzapfel

 Publisher: Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, UT
Genre: Non Fiction
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: i-xiv; 1-106
Binding: Hardbound
ISBN13: 978-1-60641-236-7
Price: $49.99

Reviewed by Steve Eccles for the Association for Mormon Letters

"Through the Lens" is an oversized (10x12) book that presents 50 images made by the noted photographer, George Edward Anderson.  The photos are reproduced as he printed them, rather than black and white reproductions.

Anderson took most of the images in 1907 when he was traveling to his mission field in Great Brittan.  The photos ended up in the Church Historian's Office after his death in 1928.  Julius F.  Wells, assistant Church historian, describes the collection to Church Historian Joseph Fielding Smith: "There are in this collection negatives of Church scenes of inestimable interest and value to the Historian's Office.  ..George Ed.  Anderson had performed a very remarkable mission while traversing the scenes of the Church History ‐ the missions at the East and abroad, visiting hundreds of homes and neighborhoods where he bore a faithful testimony of the Truth and made countless friends for the Church." (p.  1).

Some of the photos were published in the Boston Globe on May 10, 1908.

The authors state that the book has two purposes.  "The first is to provide readers for the first time the experience of seeing Anderson's important photographs of Church historical sites as he himself printed them rather than in the ubiquitous black‐and‐white form we have become accustomed to seeing during the past seventy‐five years.  The second is to provide a fresh, crisp take on Church history sites that drew Anderson to photograph them in the first place." (p.  7).

The book succeeds in the second goal very nicely.  I have always enjoyed the historic sites of the Church and have visited several of those presented in this book.  However, I always wondered what the site would have been like at the time the Saints lived there.  Although the photos were taken years after the Saints left Nauvoo, Kirkland and the other areas he photographed, these photos certainly convey a wonderful view of the early sites before they were paved over and give what I feel is a good view of what they would have originally been like.

Anderson used an 8 x 10 view camera and the images were made on glass plates.  It is estimated that the camera equipment weighed 15‐20 pounds.  It is noted that Anderson was the first professional photographer to document the sites portrayed in the book.  At the time he took the photos, film cameras were coming into vogue.  Anderson is described as an art photographer and not a scientific photographer.  The book provides a good overview of the technique he used to take the photos and reproduce them.  In my opinion, the book does an admirable job of describing the types of photographers of the time and the technique they used to produce their images.

The book has chapters covering the sites in New England, New York and Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois.  The text accompanying the images provides a nice overview of the history in the area and why the image was significant.  The photos were taken at various times, and include images of the home where Joseph Smith Sr.  and Lucy Mack Smith resided in Tunbridge, Vermont in two different seasons.  One is in winter and shows the entire area covered in snow.  It is a beautiful picture.

There are photos of the Sacred Grove, the Hill Cumorah, Kirtland Temple, various Nauvoo homes, graves of early members including members of the Smith family.

My main complaint with the book was that I wanted to see more of these wonderful photographs.

The publisher uses a high quality paper for the book.  They print a sepia colored background on the pages which sets off the photos nicely.  The text was well researched.  For example, they discuss the Smith family's farming activities in Norwich, Vermont, and discuss a volcanic eruption that occurred in 1815 at Mt.  Tambora on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia.  This event affected world climate for over a year, and was blamed for snow falling in Virginia in July, 1816.  I checked this out on the internet and confirmed this event.

I compared the images in "Through the Lens" to the photos in "Set in Stone, Fixed in Glass" (Signature Books, 1992) and found the printing and binding was comparable but the images in "Set in Stone" seemed to be half tone black‐and‐white.  They are wonderful images, but not as visually compelling as in "Through the Lens." As an aside, it was interesting to see that only one photographer was given more space in "Set in Stone." There are 64 pages about Charles R.  Savage and 48 pages about Anderson.

Both of these volumes are superior "Mormon Architecture," published in 1949, in regards to the quality of the images, printing and binding.

This is a wonderful book, but I suspect that the audience will be limited due to the price.  However, for anyone interested in Church history, this is a treasure to add to your library.

1 comment:

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