The Camera's Coast|
Historic Images of Ship and
Shore in New England
W.H. Bunting, with an Introduction by John R. Stilgoe
published by Historic New England, distributed by Tilbury House, deluxe paperback with flaps, 144 pages,
252 B&W photographs and color illustrations, $29.95
This beautifully designed and produced collection of images is a pictorial paean to New England's watery past-as viewed through the lens of the primitive cameras invented in time to capture the transition of the region from agrarian and rural to industrial and urban. Photographs are accompanied by all manner of ephemera-from postcards and broadsides to can labels and menus and by Bunting's observant and appreciative comments. Organized geographically, the collection includes scenes from Mt. Desert, Maine to Mystic, Connecticut.
In 1910, a prominent Bostonian, William Sumner Appleton founded the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now called Historic New England. According to this volume's editor, Richard Cheek, Appleton came from a long line of New England "pack rats" who not only encouraged his friends to do the same but hauled away their "trash" whenever they were moving or housecleaning. This treasure trove of souvenirs and snapshots has become the Library and Archives of Historic New England. Cheek appropriately describes this mountain of ephemera as "paper channel markers that allow us to retrace the course of past life along our region's shores."
The book serves as the catalog of an exhibit of 75 historic photos which is rentable from Historic New England for three month periods to civic organizations which has been augmented with choice and relevant ephemera from the Society's million-plus piece collection, ostensibly because the exhibit's curator, Mr. Bunting wrote such "engaging and chatty labels."
Fans of W. H. Bunting will recognize his gentle style of anecdotal commentary. He leaves the multiple images that accompany the photograph to speak for themselves. The colorful and lively early advertising art, hand-colored postcards, bills of lading, steamer tickets and so forth are certainly evocative. But the photographs are far too subtle to be scanned by the jaded modern eye. Bunting provides the guidance of a trained observer, a searcher for the detail that enhances the old and sometimes movement blurred photos. His sparse prose is casual and conversational, capturing the feeling of a personal letter. The reader is never left to wonder what in the world the scene depicts but also never feels lectured.
Perhaps the most haunting and dramatic photographic presentations are of the full-rigged ship Independence departing from Boston for Valparaiso, Chili in 1884 (p.61)-truly a magnificent example of her type-and the steamer City of Bangor departing for "points east" from "Boston at 5p.m. August 12, 1906," overflowing with excited passengers (p. 78 and 79). The photographs are reproduced on the front and back cover flaps, respectively, as eerie negatives. What palpable ghosts those images create!
W. H. Bunting is also the author of Portrait of a Port: Boston 1852-1914; Steamers, Schooners, Cutters, and Sloops; A Day's Work: A Sampler of Historic Maine Photographs, 1860-1920 in two volumes (review); Sea Struck; an Eye for the Coast: The Maritime and Monhegan Island Photographs of Eric Hudson (with Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.)