Historians of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries deprive themselves of rich resources by limiting their research to textual materials. Since the invention of photography in 1839, an immense body of images has been produced, and many of these pictures rest in commercial photography archives--businesses that over the years recorded major and minor events, important individuals, working class laborers, weddings, funerals, and even the geography of cities, towns and countrysides. The visual record comprised by these archives offers a new way to recover people's history and to understand better the evolution of occupational, ethnic, political, or cultural communities.
This work uses the photographic archive of the Verkin Studio of Galveston, Texas, and selected images from the Achille Simon collection of New Orleans, Louisiana, to recover and reconstruct the maritime community of Galveston, Texas, during the approximate period 1900 to 1940. Employing the images to investigate four particular areas--the Galveston Wharf Company, the waterfront's workers, the ships calling in the port, and the Galveston grade raising effort--this monograph treats the images as both information and material culture, gathering from them specifics about ships, people, companies, and activities as well as examining their circumstances of production and usage--who took them? Why? Which ones were used and how were they used? A final chapter details the creation of an exhibition using these images and explains the design and production choices made to convey the multiplicity of interpretations suggested by the materials.
Studied through this two-fold method, commercial photography archives may yield especially rich interpretive material and also offer insights into areas of art history and the history of photography as well. This particular effort draws from existing work in the history of photography, social history, community studies, Texas history, and maritime studies and contributes--as an applicable case study--to all of those fields.