A great-great grandson revisits kin’s photographs
Anyone who loves Colorado history is familiar with the photographs of John Collier. A Scotsman who came to the U.S. in 1871 and operated photographic studios in Central City and Denver, Collier, like his contemporary William H. Jackson, left behind a wealth of historic images. Over more than 30 years, Collier crisscrossed the state photographing buildings and streets, people and landscapes, mines and mining towns. He ventured as far as San Francisco and even Alaska, but his real legacy is the hundreds of photographs of Colorado’s past.
Grant Collier is the John Collier’s great-great grandson and a photographer in his own right. He’s written about his relative in the past — in fact, he’s authored 10 other books — but this oversized thenand-now book, with its brief biography, is a fresh look at John Collier’s work. The side-by-side photographs, taken by the two men more than a hundred years apart, show the drastic changes in Colorado over the years
Ten years before he immigrated to America, Collier was a well-known photographer in Scotland. He developed cameras and techniques for the budding field of picture-taking. In 1865, he was hired by the Great North Eastern Railway Co. to photograph attractions along the rail line. At the time, photographers were mostly confined to studio work, because negatives had to be prepared and developed within minutes of being exposed. Collier, however, built his own portable dark room.
Over the years, Collier developed a sense of wanderlust and eventually moved his family to the U.S., setting up his first studio in Central City. From there, he traveled all over the state, capturing a generation of sites and scenes.
Collier carried his bulky cameras and equipment up mountains and down gullies. In photographing the same sites, great-great grandson Grant had an easier task, since he used a digital camera, with a computer for a darkroom. A bigger challenge for the younger photographer might have been finding the exact spot from which the earlier Collier had taken a picture. The landscape has changed considerably since the 19th century.
The first Collier, for instance, photographed Manitou House, a hotel in the shadow of Pikes Peak, possibly in the 1890s. The hotel burned down in 1903, and today the site is a road with utility lines. A bridge on the Colorado Central rail line in Clear Creek Canyon is gone, and a highway runs along the site.
Towns, too, have changed. Nevadaville was a bustling mining town when Collier photographed it. Grant Collier’s picture shows only a handful of buildings. And of course, Denver’s streetscape is different.
Everybody loves thenand-now pictures. This book contains plenty of them and is enhanced by the fact that the two photographers are then-andnow members of the same family.