Chilkat women and girls in Alaska, by Eliza Scidmore (Source: National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

Remember back in the ’60s and ’70s when travel was such a big deal that everyone took hundreds of slides? And insisted on sharing them. As you sat for what seemed like hours watching poorly cropped and focused images projected on a white sheet hung across a wall in the living room.

Today, with cellphones, digital cameras, TV shows and relatively cheap air fares, we’re all so jaded about the wonders of distant places.

In Eliza Scidmore‘s day, travel was still exotic. The Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives has a collection of photos and lantern slides she took during her travels. They’re held by the Smithsonian because it loaned her some photographic equipment. 

Lantern slides were highly popular at lectures. One newspaper account noted that whenever the National Geographic Society sponsored a lecture in which the speaker showed lantern slides, attendance doubled.

Most of the Smithsonian’s images are from Asia, especially Japan and China, but a few are from South America and Alaska. One group was taken around 1914 to 1916, when Scidmore was contributing photos to National Geographic.

Among the collection are some images she probably acquired rather than took herself. Her correspondence with editors indicates that at times she arranged for others to take photos and hand-color them.

 

Boys swimming off boat in Japan, by Eliza Scidmore (Source: National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

 

Houseboat in China, by Eliza Scidmore (Source: National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

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