20 •(LOUISIANA--THE GREAT RAFT)
Album entitled Photographic Views of Red River Raft with 113 photographs by Robert B. Talfor. The exquisitely hand-colored photographs depict the surveying and removal of the Great Raft by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, a project that was directed by Captain C.W. Howell and 1st Lieutenant E.A. Woodruff; this elaborate album with images made to accompany the annual report on operations. With views of black and Caucasian work crews removing decades of organic matter, scenes of the clogged river way and the steam-powered riverboats, members of the party walking among the tightly-packed, floating logs, and views of the cleared river ways. The crew is shown both observing and attempting to clear the raft with the aid of machinery and explosive nitroglycerin, but many of the images highlight the landscape and the raft itself. Hand-colored albumen prints, the images measuring 7x9¼ inches (17.8x23.5 cm.), mounted recto only to pages with a stylized U.S. Corps of Engineers printed border, some with Talfor's credit and plate number in the negative, and each with his credit again, the series title, and a plate number (I-CVII and A-F) on mount recto. Oblong folio, heavy three-dimensional leather-covered boards with a gilt-lettered title, backstrip defective, edges are worn; with a handwritten and numbered plate list in the front of the volume; a few of the plates are loose; also with a copy print of the original map laid in. 1873
One of only three extant copies. With one in the Louisiana State University Libraries (which also, apparently, houses Talfor's "photographic outfit" and correspondence associated with the Talfor family) and the other at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
An extraordinary photographic record by the British-born Robert B. Talfor, who founded a photography studio in Greenport, New York in 1867. The pictures, which were shot in April and May 1873, are remarkable for both their historical narrative and aesthetic integrity. The photographs depict crews improving waterway navigation. But while these laborers were removing organic matter from the Red River to facilitate riverboat transport, the railroad industry was dominating the commercial landscape, dynamically shrinking geographic distances and improving transportation of goods.
Talfor's career as a photographer apparently began during the Civil War, when he was a topographic engineer responsible for mapping battlefields. The transition to the Louisiana project is unclear but his prints capture the haunting beauty of the landscape and the pride of laborers.