Brian Levine

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Specialists in Colorado history and the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Original Photographs and Publications

Page 14



CANON OF THE RIO LAS ANIMAS COLORADO, #59019.  Original mammoth-sized albumen print made by William Henry Jackson in 1882 (WHJ negative #1077).  This photochrom image was printed by the Detroit Photographic Company in 1900 using a stone-lithograph.  The original glass-plate was made along the route of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, near Rockwood, at a location hundreds of feet below the rail bed, near the Las Animas River.  Jackson artistically captured the remarkable engineering required to allow the safe passage of a narrow gauge train along the thin shelf hewn from solid granite. Dimensions: 20 inches by 17 inches.  This image was one of Jackson’s most popular, almost as immediately recognizable as his Mt. Holy Cross photograph.  This image of the Canon of the Rio Las Animas was one of The Denver & Rio Grande Railway’s most effective tourist advertisements.  Condition: very good plus with 2 tiny nicks on the left-hand margin, under mat board; excellent stone lithographic coloration; fine details.  Photograph mounted on original board.                                                                                                       



RUBY CASTLES CANON OF THE GRAND, UTAH (Colorado), #59025.  Original mammoth-sized chromolithograph taken by William Henry Jackson and published by the Detroit Photographic Company, 1900.  Photograph made along the route of The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, which was located near the Colorado-Utah border, west of Grand Junction, Colorado.  The photochrom process employed chemically sensitive stone-lithography to give a black-and-white photograph the impression of color.  In 1897, the first photochrom image was produced in the United States by the Detroit Photographic Company.  Not long after, Jackson was asked to join this company.  Dimensions: 21 inches by 17 inches.  Condition: fine; excellent stone lithographic coloration; fine details.  Chromolithograph not mounted.                                        


Please inquire.

This original William Henry Jackson photograph, as well as many others, will be on exhibit at Rijks Gallery (970-349-5289) in Crested Butte, Colorado beginning December 19, 2013.



Colorado Photographers


Original mammoth-sized albumen prints and photochroms.

Presented by Mt. Gothic Tomes and Reliquary

Exhibition at Rijks Family Gallery, 310 Second Street,

Crested Butte, Colorado


Brian Levine, Mt. Gothic Tomes and Reliquary

 Website:   Email:


William Henry Jackson was a myth-maker, an early photographer with a majestic vision of the American West.  And, astoundingly enough, he made myths with only glass-plates and a box-camera.  To accomplish this, he climbed – heavy equipment in hand -- Mesa Verde’s steep canyons, trekked through the great expanse of Yellowstone, summited the highest Colorado peaks, journeyed through the labyrinths of the Grand Canyon, found his way into inaccessible western mining camps, and aligned himself with the most harrowing engineering feats along Colorado’s narrow-gauge railroad routes.  And he did this all before cameras had shutters and the American West was tamed.   Jackson did have the benefit of burros, portable dark rooms, wet gelatin plates, dry gelatin plates, fixing baths, and so on, but success on its own in such primitive working conditions made Jackson himself a legend.  And then there was his exceptionally long life, spanning the years 1843 to 1942; and his photographic innovation, and his perpetual evolution with the latest in camera technology – it seems Jackson never stopped working, never stopped promoting, never ceased evolving his perspective.  He was a legend who made myths, growing with the incredible transformations of the American West, his vision the vision of millions.

To comprehend the significance of Jackson’s work, imagine a special train – that of The Denver & Rio Grande Railway – edging like a hesitant bull along a slim, worm-like path, high above Colorado’s Animas River, deep in the heart of the San Juan Mountains.  The narrow gauge rail bed is cut horizontally into the perpendicular side of a massive granite mountain.  At least that’s the way it appears from the vantage point Jackson has taken hundreds of feet below.  A Baldwin locomotive is pulling just two cars -- a passenger and a caboose – but still, it steams cautiously along the thin shelf.  Suddenly, a cord is pulled.  And that’s it, the signal is given.  The mighty steam-powered bull lumbers to a stop.  From below, the train seems to precariously cling to the precipitous cliff wall: technology co-existing with nature.  And that’s it -- exactly the vision Jackson wants!  He opens the lens on his large format camera.  Light streams in and reacts with the sensitive gelatin on the mammoth-sized (21 inches by 17 inches) glass plate.  A short pause, and then Jackson closes the lens.  That’s it! another myth created.

            In the early 19th century few Eastern Americans ventured west to explore the country’s distant territories.  Yet, those untamed western landscapes enthralled the Eastern populace, as long, of course, as the adventure and danger they represented could be safely viewed from afar.  That fascination with the American West has never really waned, despite the encroachment of civilization, industrialization and urbanization.  The myth those wild and wondrous panoramic landscapes evoke remain a viable part of American culture today.  This is rarely more evident than when looking through an old estate in, say, New York, Philadelphia or Boston and finding western landscapes by William Henry Jackson, and other early American photographers still hanging on walls -- over a hundred and thirty years after they were taken.  Obviously, the original owners no longer reside between the Victorian lath-and plaster, but the myth of the open, unbridled western landscape remains just as powerful a myth today as it was when captured on glass-plate.

            Between 1803 and 1853, the U.S. Government, through both purchase and war, acquired enormous territories west of the Mississippi, an area totaling millions of acres.  The landscapes these territories held were reported to be spectacular and awe-inspiring; filled with natural wonders, numerous Native American tribes, endless prairies, incalculable mineral resources, never before seen animal life, and unimaginable opportunities.  Despite a long list of government incentives, highly encouraging military reconnaissance, promises of riches and a new life, most Americans from crowded Eastern cities simply could not be induced to venture into the Western frontier.  It was not so much that they were apathetic to the possibilities the new West had to offer, even though many endured poor working conditions, unhealthy environments, and lackluster opportunity.  It was more that the words of the government, journalists, and promoters just weren’t enough to inspire them to risk everything migrating to unknown regions.

That public inertia lasted years after the Lewis and Clark explorations; but general attitude slowly changed with the confluence of several watershed events: the practical implementation of the steam engine in travel; the economic Panic of 1847; settlement of the war with Mexico in 1848; the 1849 California Gold Rush; the 1850s transcontinental railroad surveys; the 1870s Hayden surveys of the western territories; and the use of photographs in newspapers, magazines, and other promotions.  Of all the incentives the government employed to encourage people to migrate none was as effective as the illustration.  Without question, the artist’s work, such as a steel-engraving, had its significant impacts.

Newspapers, magazines, broadsides, hand-bills, and books also had their positive effects on the American public; and through these media interest in western developments spread.  The “word” traveled even faster after 1861 when the overland telegraph united east and west coasts.  But language alone still could not compete with illustrations in Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Magazine.  Pen-and-ink illustrations and steel-engravings served as basic constructs for the imagination, assisting the average American in “seeing” what Albert Bierstadt, William Henry Holmes, and Thomas Moran had encountered during their journeys.  People could gasp, gaze in wonder, chatter about the fantastic landscapes the American West had to offer.  But, in essence, artists’ engravings only complimented the cartography of the day.  It was the photograph that actually performed best in conjuring enthralling myths of the American West, especially photographs taken by such accomplished landscape photographers as William Henry Jackson, Carleton Watkins, Charles L. Weed, A. J. Russell, and Timothy O’Sullivan.  The landscape photograph enabled the viewer to witness a scene, be a part of it, as if through a window as opposed to just on a page.

Myth-Makers of the American West

William Henry Jackson was born in 1843.  As a young man he was strongly influenced by the Hudson River School and was often seen sketching the Adirondack scenery, near Keeseville, New York.  Jackson attained his first paying position in 1858 as a “landscape retoucher and colorist.”  He worked for C.C. Schoonmaker, a photographer with a River Street studio in Troy, New York.  Schoonmaker was instrumental in teaching Jackson how to use a shutter-less box-camera and develop glass-plate exposures.  In 1864, Jackson worked for A.F. Styles at the Vermont Gallery of Art.  There, Jackson further developed his talent for landscape photography and hand-tinting.  Two years later, Jackson decided to follow the men he admired most -- Fremont, Gunnison, Powell, Bonneville -- into the western frontier.

In Omaha, Jackson signed up as a bullwhacker for one of Ed Owens freight trains.  It rolled out several days later along the Oregon Trail.  The journey took Jackson to places he’d never imagined, had him witnessing events he would have never believed possible, kept him working and alert and constantly challenged.  He was seduced and wanted more.  Months later, in May 1867, and not long after he arrived in the small town of Los Angeles, Jackson joined the McGannigan-Kelly party and drove a hundred unbroken horses back to Omaha.  Throughout his journey, Jackson toted pens, pencils and sketch pads; kept a diary, and recorded in word and picture all the memorable locations and events he had experienced.  It was filled with the exhilaration and intrigue; and there was no question: he was anxious to return to the West.  Next time Jackson was determined to go back as an artist and documenter of the West’s wondrous landscapes.

Jackson quickly found work with the Hamilton Photography Studio of Omaha.  By the end of 1867, he, along with his two brothers -- Edward and Frederick -- owned the studio on Douglas and Fifteenth streets.  From that point on, William Henry Jackson would dedicate his life to photography and the marketing of the American West.  He began by photographing the Native America people of the Mid-West: the Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, Ponca, Winnebago, and Omaha.  Jackson sold these images to tourists.  Then, in late 1868, Jackson signed his first contract to photograph the scenery along the western route of the Union Pacific.  This project kept Jackson productive through 1869.  Then, in July 1870, Ferdinand V. Hayden, medical doctor and geologist, asked Jackson to join the U.S. Department of Interior’s surveys of the American West.

If Jackson did not immediately realize the enormous possibilities of Hayden’s offer, he soon did.  In the first three years, Jackson extensively photographed the natural wonders of Yellowstone, and then the historical ones of Mesa Verde.  He remained with the Hayden surveys for nearly a decade, and in that time explored and catalogued Anasazi ruins, encouraged Congress to transform Yellowstone into a national park, made landmarks of countless western geological formations, and helped open numerous passages and trails throughout the Rocky Mountains.  In doing so, Jackson assisted in selling, in its earliest forms, the myth of the American West to an increasingly astounded populace.  Jackson soon became so adept at creating myth via photograph that Jay Gould, of The Denver & Rio Grande, personally asked him to do the same for his railroad.  It was then that Jackson considered returning to private enterprise.

Jackson left the United States Geological Survey in 1879.  And because Hayden had made Colorado one of its special foci, Jackson was able to become highly familiar with the state, its people, natural resources, and industry.  As a result, Jackson had amassed a large selection of photographic negatives of the region.  He was also astutely aware of Colorado’s great industrial and tourist potential.  For William Henry Jackson, Colorado was the American West.  So it seemed only logical he open a studio in Denver.  With the help of two influential pioneers -- William N. Byers, editor and publisher of The Rocky Mountain News and ex-governor William Gilpin – Jackson started the Wm. Jackson Photo Company, located at 413 Larimer Street.

But Jackson was no longer concerned with just cataloguing scenery to encourage western migration; he was now more interested in the conquering of the American West and man’s infusion of his technology into the natural landscape.  And now that he was working for the railroad and mining industries he created another perspective of the American West: a vision not necessarily disconnected from the past, yet reshaped and refocused to inspire various commercial audiences.  He traveled the state photographing trains, stations, mines, smelters, towns, street scenes, and business buildings.  He published his glass-plate images as stereopticon views, cabinet cards, and mammoth-sized albumen views.

Jackson’s first commission with The Denver & Rio Grande Railway began in 1881, wherein he was contracted to photograph scenes along its thousands of miles of tracks.  The concept grew into a major project, so Jackson invited two of his friends, Thomas Moran, a painter who had worked with him on the Hayden surveys, and Ernest Ingersoll, a well-known journalist, to join him.  Ingersoll was contracted to produce a series of articles on the mines of southwestern Colorado for Harper’s Weekly; and, Moran was paid to illustrate Ingersoll’s articles.  The team was perfect for the newly revised myth of the American West – one centered on tourism and investment in the Colorado mining industry.  Now, instead of taking pictures of landscapes, Jackson used technique to compose them.

His new myths were no longer about challenging the unknown; they were more about the tourist luxuriating in wondrous scenery, the partaking in healthy and lush escapes from Eastern civilization.  They were also about the exploitation of the land: opportunity for the investor to profit from Colorado’s rich gold and silver mines.  And thus, Jackson’s landscapes were no longer strictly about natural environment, like they had been in the Hayden surveys – fantastic scenery.  They were now arranged pictures made by Jackson to fit a calculated vision, a precise and desired response from a targeted audience.  He used lens and privileged vantage points, lighting and coloring, nature and people to arrange scenes, express and empower specific emotions. 

Returning to that special train seemingly hanging on a cliff wall in the Canon of the Rio Las Animas, we see Jackson in powerful control of his myth-making ability.  He uses depth of field, lighting, contrasts, and perspective to construct a controlled scene – one that can be facilely altered to fit various emotions and meaning.  In one exposure (Albumen Image #2442, circa 1882), Jackson finds a unique viewpoint, one no tourist could have attained.  It was taken near Rockwood and makes his special D&RG train appear as if it is hesitantly, precariously inching its way across a thread carved out of solid rock.  This is intentional drama on Jackson’s part, a lure to the investor/entrepreneur, a person accustomed to calculated ventures, someone who often finds himself pouring everything he has into a western mine or mining camp.  In another version of this landscape (Photochrom #59009, circa 1899), a passenger train is seen high up from the Las Animas River bed.  It strings its way along the cliff face, appearing as if at any moment its wheels could lose their grip and the train topple from the tracks.  Here, Jackson is targeting the urban adventurer who craves a bit of excitement, a bit of danger, but still needs the assurance that civilization and technology are within grasp.  In yet another version of this landscape (Photochrom #59013, circa 1900), Jackson balances the natural majesty of the canyon against the “cultured” intrusion of human technology: Jackson’s special D&RG train at rest alongside the Las Animas’ tranquil river’s bed.  This image tells the Eastern tourist he can comfortably retreat from civilization in the newly conquered West, live healthy and harmoniously in the beauty of the mountainous landscape, and return to the city any time he desires.

Each of these scenes was intentionally and meticulously composed.  Each represents how, over the years, Jackson’s vision of the American West was modified with the transformation of the landscape.  Each image demonstrates how Jackson altered his vision for the constantly developing myth of the American West.  Comparing these photographic images, from 1881 to 1900, it is possible to see the evolution of both Jackson’s photographic technique and his own attitude toward the progress man made in the taming western American landscape.  William Henry Jackson, himself, is now a historical figure; and his photographs are the myths that marketed the American West.





Athearn, Robert G.  REBEL OF THE ROCKIES: The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 1962.

Beebe, Lucius and Clegg, Charles.  RIO GRANDE: Mainline of the Rockies, Howell-North: Berkeley, 1962.

Hales, Peter.  WILLIAM HENRY JACKSON and the Transformation of the American Landscape, Temple University Press: Philadelphia, 1988.

Helmers, Dow.  HISTORIC ALPINE TUNNEL, Sage Books: Denver, 1963.

Jackson, William Henry.  TIME EXPOSURE: the Autobiography of William Henry Jackson, G.P. Putnam’s Sons: New York, 1940.

Jones, William C. and Elizabeth B. compilers.  WILLIAM HENRY JACKSON’S Colorado.  Colorado Railroad Museum: revised edition, 1992.

LeMassena, Robert A.  RIO GRANDE … to the Pacific, Sundance, Ltd.: Denver, 1974.

Mangan, Terry Wm.  COLORADO ON GLASS: Colorado’s First Half Century as Seen by the Camera, Denver: Sundance, Ltd., 1980, 3rd printing.

Poor, M.C.  DENVER, SOUTH PARK & PACIFIC, World Press; Denver, 1949

Poor, M.C.  Pictorial Supplement DENVER, SOUTH PARK & PACIFIC, World Press; Denver, 1959

Poor, M.C., Kindig, R.H., Haley, E.J.  Pictorial Supplement to DENVER, SOUTH PARK & PACIFIC, World Press, 1959.




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