Remember back in the ’60s and ’70s when travel was such a big deal that everyone took hundreds of slides? And insisted on sharing them. As you sat for what seemed like hours watching poorly cropped and focused images projected on a white sheet hung across a wall in the living room. Today, with cellphones, digital cameras, TV shows and relatively cheap air fares, we’re all so jaded about the wonders of distant places.
In Eliza Scidmore‘s day, travel was still exotic. The Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives has a collection of photos and lantern slides she took during her travels. They’re held by the Smithsonian because it loaned Eliza some photographic equipment.
Lantern slides were highly popular at lectures. One newspaper account noted that whenever the National Geographic Society sponsored a lecture in which the speaker showed lantern slides, attendance doubled.
Most of the Smithsonian’s images are from Asia, especially Japan and China, but there are also a few from South America and Alaska. One group was taken in 1914-16, when Eliza had just started contributing photos to National Geographic. Among the collection are some images she may have collected rather than actually taken. Her correspondence with editors indicates that at times she arranged for others to take photos or hand-color them.