A Fresh Look at Frasher – Photography of the Mojave Desert and the Southwest – Before It Was Trendy
Who loves old photographs? I do – I find them very satisfying in a cerebral kind of way. Many of the blogs I’ve written have included old photographs of the Mojave Desert. Some of these photos have been available locally through historical organizations, some are screenshots from movies I’ve seen, and still others have a much deeper history. I love to travel the Mojave Desert and find the exact location of the older historical photos. It’s just something I find fun to do and very informative as to changes, changes in cities and towns, changes in vegetation, the environment and changes in people.
Here are a couple of examples of a few screenshots from the movie It’s a Mad Mad Mad World; certain scenes were filmed in and around Yucca Valley, please see them below:
I’ve also used photos from the local Historical Society such as these taken over 60 years apart, please see them below. I believe the bottom black and white photo is a Burton Frasher photo, we will learn more about him in a moment:
The question is where can one go to reliably find historical images of the American Southwest? I stumbled across a photo of Cadiz Summit many years ago and I made this video at that time. Please see the video below, this is a Burton Frasher photo:
I made the video above because I’d found a picture online of Cadiz Summit. Today it’s just a crumbling building on Route 66 east of Amboy, California, on the way to the Colorado River. In its heyday though, it was a bustling stop along Route 66. This is the photo that opened the treasure trove of Frasher photos to me.
So how do you find photos consistently? How do you find Frasher’s photos? The Pomona Public Library has a online catalog of over 7500 photographs by Burton Frasher that have been made available digitally.
This is a link to the Frasher’s Photo Collection, PLEASE CLICK THIS, BROWSE HIS PHOTOS: Click to go to the Pomona Library’s Archive of Frasher’s PhotosThis is a link to the photo collection in general, you can choose the collection on the left menu: Click to go to the Pomona Library’s Digital Image Archive
Now a little bit about the person responsible for this great collection:
Burton Frasher Sr. was born in 1888 and lived till 1955. He began his business in Lordsburg (now La Verne) California in 1914.
According to the Pomona Public Library:
“In 1920, he moved his studio to Pomona, California, where he began to sell his own increasingly popular picture postcard views of the Southwest. By the end of the 1920’s, what had begun as a sideline became Frasher’s main business focus. He traveled extensively through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, ranging up through Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, and down through Baja, California and Sonora, Mexico, taking pictures of whatever subjects he thought would prove commercially viable on his postcards. During the Depression and pre-war years, the business expanded to the point that Frasher could hire photographers who doubled as salesmen to travel the Southwest taking new views and selling postcards. In 1948, over 3 1/2 million “Frasher Fotos” postcards were sold nationwide. By the time of his death in 1955, Burton Frasher was considered the Southwest’s most prolific photographer.
“The Frasher Postcard collection is remarkable in its breadth and scope. A substantial portion of the collection consists of “Main Street” views of small southwestern towns and ghost towns, which no longer exist or have changed dramatically since they were first photographed. For instance, the former gold mining town of Bodie, California, now a State Historic Park was a favorite subject for Frasher. His 1927 photos of the deserted town document buildings and structures that were mostly destroyed by fire in 1932.
“Frasher systematically photographed roadside cafes, lunch stands and restaurants; civic buildings such as schools, hospitals, post offices and churches; bridges, dams, highways and other major construction projects. He also photographed storefronts, group meetings, horse shows, automobiles, and county fairs. (Frasher was for many years the official photographer of the Los Angeles County Fair).
“The collection also includes thousands of scenic views of the Southwest’s most imposing natural areas, including Bryce and Zion Canyons in Utah, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico; The Grand Canyon in Arizona; Yosemite National Park and most notably, Death Valley in California. Frasher’s most memorable images were taken in Death Valley, which he visited frequently beginning in 1920. Many of his photographic expeditions there required the use of pack animals to carry equipment into remote wilderness areas that were without roads. Frasher’s photographs, particularly those he took of “Death Valley Scotty” at his desert “castle”, inspired great popular interest in this isolated landscape. The motoring public would not access this area until 1926. In 1939, Frasher photographs were chosen by the WPA’s Federal Writer’s Project to illustrate its guidebook to Death Valley.
“Lastly, Frasher photographed Indians and other ethnic groups in California and the Southwest for inclusion in his postcards. These photos show, for instance, Kiowa Feather Dancers in Arizona, Pima women with their burden baskets, dances and intertribal ceremonials in New Mexico, sand painters, basket makers, and Navajo and Hopi potters and silversmiths at their work.
“The Pomona Public Library came into possession of its Frasher materials, (including photographic postcards and prints, salesmen’s sample books, and even the original subject and numerical indexes created for the business), by means of a formal agreement with the Frasher family in the mid 1960’s. These materials represent almost the entirety of Burton Frasher’s commercial photography output over the course of his career.”
Burton Frasher’s grandson, Chris, is still in the photography business, this is his website: https://www.frashersfoto.com/
Here are a few more interesting links to Frasher, his life and his photographs:
If you happen to use any Frasher picture to make “Then and Now” comparison photos of your area or any area, please share them with us, we would love to see them.
Take It Easy – Mojave