Yesterday, I was finally able to do something I've wanted to do for a very long time.
I got to visit the Evelyn Cameron Gallery of her pioneer photography in Terry, Montana.
Never heard of her? That's OK--most people haven't, even though she is in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and was the subject of a PBS documentary in the mid 199os.
Cameron was born to a life of privilege in Britain, in 1868. Her family was so well-to-do that it employed 15 servants, one of whom was assigned to brush Evelyn's hair twice a day. Evelyn rode sidesaddle and did not know the meaning of work of any kind.
She left that life behind after she married and accompanied her husband to frontier Montana, where they ranched and tried to raise polo ponies on the unlimited grasslands between Terry and Miles City. She did almost all of the ranch's manual labor on her own, embracing the independence this gave her. To help make ends meet, she took up photography, selling photos to cowboys, homesteaders, newlyweds, and anyone else who wanted a keepsake photo from a glass plate negative.
Evelyn carried her 9-lb. camera strapped to her waist, put her tripod in a rifle scabbard, and rode horseback from place to place to take her 34 years' worth of photos. After her death, her photo gear and some 1800 glass plate negatives sat untouched in a basement for 50 years, before they were discovered and made known to the world.
Evelyn's life and story have fascinated me for ages, as has that part of Montana that now claims her. Tidbit: She was the first woman in her area to wear a split skirt for riding horseback, and was once threatened with arrest for daring to appear in such a garment on the main street of Miles City.
If you can ever get your hands on a copy, you can learn her whole story in the book "Photographing Montana: The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron," by Donna M. Lucey. This is where I first learned of her and saw some of her photos documenting early life in Montana.