A great-great grand­son re­vis­its kin’s pho­to­graphs

The Denver Post - - BOOKS - By San­dra Dal­las

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.

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