Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Rare Scene: Self Portrait of an Early Itawamba County Traveling Photographer

During the late 1890’s and early 1900’s many Itawamba County, Mississippi families were photographed by traveling photographers. The county, like many other rural Mississippi counties, had no photography studio, therefore area studios in towns such as Tupelo traveled throughout the countryside setting up makeshift studios in the various communities. Old county newspapers from the era announced such ventures such as Huffman Photography Studio (James D. and Walter Huffman) in nearby Tupelo making trips to Itawamba County usually setting up shop in the Fulton Hotel. Such studios would publish their schedule with stops throughout the county in various communities such as Tremont, Tilden and Mantachie, usually setting up at or near a country store. Hanging quilts or canvas stretched between trees would usually serve as the backdrop. Many times the photographer’s wagon would stop at houses along the road and photograph portraits on the various farms.

The interesting photograph above, shared by Itawamba County researcher Mona Mills, is a most unusual traveling studio photograph in that the photographer herself is posing in the portrait with the subjects. This portrait was found in an old trunk belonging to Thusie Evans Robinson of the Tremont area. According to Mills, on the back of the photograph is, in what appears to be Lawson Robinson’s (Thusie’s son) strong handwriting, the notation “The Lady who made our pictures.” Pictured with the female photographer are two young girls. The girl on the right may be the daughter of Fletcher Lowrey Evans. Notice in the close-up view, the photographer is holding the rubber shutter bulb of the camera with the tubing to the camera hidden by the potted flower arrangements. This is a most unusual photograph being that the photographer is pictured in the portrait along with her subjects.


Terry Thornton said...

Bob, Thanks for this most important historical photograph shared by Mona Mills. This information adds tremendously to a search I'm doing on the Huffman Studio in Tupelo (the Vines family portrait recently posted at Hill Country was made by Huffman).

Thanks to you and Mona for sharing this view. Hope some of your readers can identify the lady photographer --- "the lady who made our pictures" needs a name!

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi

Bob Franks said...

Terry, in more than 30 years of county research, and looking at perhaps thousands of pictures, this is the first photograph I have ever seen where the photographer is included in the portrait. A most rare find indeed, thanks to society member and researcher Mona Mills.

footnoteMaven said...


Two thoughts.

1. Mississippi in (at least) 1906 had a privilege tax for traveling photographers. A woman's name on that list would certainly stand out. If no woman found there then perhaps she was half of a husband wife team. Here's the law:

Privilege Taxes – 1906

3850. Photograph Galleries: On each photograph, tin type, open air or tent gallery, set up in or outside any city, town or village, in each county, whether the work shall be finished there or not $5.00

Same, for other traveling photographers, state $20.00.
Same, for other traveling photographers, for each county $10.00

Finding this list for several years could provide some answers.

2. I found a reference to a photographer taking his picture with children to assure them there was nothing to be afraid of - although these children don't look as frightened as the photographer.

Great photograph!


Bob Franks said...

Thanks for the comments footnotemaven. You gave much some good research ideas about the photographer.

Anonymous said...

Bob, after further research, I believe the young girl on the right may have been Lilly Evans, sister to Fletcher Lowrey Evans and Thusie Evans Robinson. Lilly was born in 1889 and was a favorite sister of Thusie's which would indicate why such a photo would have been saved throughout the years in the trunk. Thusie named her only daughter after Lilly.