Single Lens Reflex: The Photographs of Burt Harwood
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, last line
Harwood & Mooney - Photographers, Charles City, Ia., is one of the city’s enterprising young Firms. Though both are young men, they do some of the finest work in their line in the State. The senior member of the firm, Burritt Harwood, is a native of Charles City, and was born Nov. 26, 1855. He received his early education here, attending the Charles City High School, and afterward the Academy of Design, Chicago.
- History of Floyd County, Iowa ,Chicago: Interstate Publishing Co., 1882
Elihu Burritt (Burt) Harwood (1855-1922) enrolled in the Chicago Academy of Design in 1873 at the age of 18. After his studies there, Harwood began working as a commercial photographer and eventually became senior partner in Harwood & Mooney, Photographers, in 1882. A journey to the Charles City, Iowa archives would most likely provide photographs that Burt took for Harwood & Mooney during that period. And it was in that same year, 1882, that Harwood turned to the “fine arts,” to painting—he enrolled in the Art Students League in New York City and became a member in 1883. The following year Harwood left for Paris and studied at the Académie Julian for three years. Newly married, he would return to Paris and the Académie again in late 1896, and for the next two decades Burt and his wife Lucy would divide their time between Paris and their home base in Brittany.
Harwood’s earlier training in photography would have found him highly receptive to the revolutionary developments in the nascent field of photography in late nineteenth century Paris. His profession as a painter would have alerted him to the recourse to the medium by French painters like Edouard Vuillard and Edgar Degas, who ordered dozens of plates in 1895 and processed all of them himself. It is in Brittany that Harwood pursued this amalgam of photography and painting. Harwood’s extensive use of the photo medium in Brittany, “where artist-photographer Harwood took masterful pictures of every phase of life: weddings, funerals, festivals, customs, exhibits of paintings in Paris” (El Crepusculo, 1955)—very likely reflects the use of the lens by Paris painters in selecting subjects and compositions for their painting, as well as the period’s growing interest in the camera as the principal means to record customs and manners.
Single Lens Reflex picks up Burt Harwood’s pursuit of painting and photography upon his and Lucy’s return to the United States in 1916, and their subsequent move West to Taos. Of the many photographers who came to Taos in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th—William Henry Jackson, Edward S. Curtis, Laura Gilpin, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, to name the most prominent—some, like Adams and Strand, visited for short periods. Burt Harwood was the only one who settled in Taos, and lived there as a full-time resident. This enabled Harwood to continue the artistic approach to photography, which he had embraced in France, as a means to capture local culture and as an aid in selecting the subjects and compositions for his paintings.
The Harwood Museum of Art’s collection of Burt Harwood’s photographs, then, features his images of the daily life of Taos: parades, festivals, notable artists, the Taos Pueblo and surrounding Pueblos. Included as well are his photographs of camping, road trips in vintage automobiles, dining on the prairie, cowboys, calf roping and contemporary landscape. One photo of Burt and Lucy dining outdoors, dressed formally in the fashion of the times and served by a Taos Pueblo woman, underscores the starkness of the surrounding environment that still defined the New Mexico landscape well into the 20th century.
The quality of Harwood’s photography—setting, composition, lighting and tonality—speaks to his years of fine art studies in New York and Paris, decades before the camera would begin to be considered as an art form on a par with painting and the other belles artes. Harwood’s aesthetic approach to the form and content of the medium of photography is especially indebted to his time in Paris and Brittany, and would bear fruit above all in his photographs of Pueblo Indian people and their culture.
Burt Harwood’s artful photographs of the vast, wild country of Northern New Mexico place him in the final phase of the transformative legacy of nature photography that emerged after the Civil War in the West—with the likes of Carleton E. Watkins at Yosemite and William Henry Jackson at Yellowstone—and closed with the numerous photographers recording the way of life of the Indians of the Plains and the Southwest by the turn of the century. Burt Harwood’s final years in Taos were taken up with his painting and photographing of the surrounding Pueblo Indian tribes of New Mexico—from 1916 to 1922—at the same time as the epic project of photographer Edward S. Curtis that led to twenty volumes of photogravures under the title The Northern American Indian. In particular, Harwood’s portraits of the village and people of Taos Pueblo follow in the tradition of earlier Taos Pueblo photographers such as Jackson, D.B. Chase, Sam Beaudry, and Curtis (who, like Burt before him, became a partner in a photographic studio).
Burt Harwood’s photographs are included in the Harwood Museum of Art’s historic print collection on Taos Pueblo (enriched in 2009 with a gift by Gus Foster of his own collection of forty-two Taos Pueblo photographs). Burt had a car and a driver (Elisha Randall, father of Charles Randall). This meant that Burt had the freedom to venture into the nether regions of the countryside with his Kodak Autographic 2 ¼ x 4 ¼ roll film camera. The results of these trips are prints and negatives capturing some of the most beautiful landscape and enduring scenes of local life in New Mexico’s long history.
In March of 1924, the Ainslie Galleries on 53rd street in New York City featured forty six canvasses by Burt Harwood. It was not by chance that this memorial exhibition was dedicated entirely to Burt Harwood’s Pueblo paintings celebrating the Native American culture of New Mexico.
– Richard Tobin and Jina Brenneman
The scanned digitized collection of Burritt's photographs has only been recently completed, 2011 to 2012. It is with deep gratitude that we thank the tireless efforts of Cris Pulos and James Kent in completing the important task of documenting, cleaning, and preserving the Burt Harwood Collection of Historic Photographs.