Evelyn Jephson Flower was born into an affluent family on an estate near London on August 26, 1868. Throughout her privileged childhood at Furzedown Park, she wanted for nothing. Much to her parents’ dismay, she married a rather eccentric Scottish aristocrat named Ewen Cameron, who was 14 years her senior. After a rustic honeymoon in the Great Plains region of the United States, the couple became intrigued by prairie life in remote Montana. They decided to move there and raise polo ponies, which they would export to Great Britain. Settling in the town of Terry, Mrs. Cameron would later recall in her diary that there were “cowboys shooting here, there, and everywhere.”
Although their horse business failed, the Camerons remained in their adopted home, and did whatever they could to generate income, from selling vegetables to taking in boarders. Because Mr. Cameron was often in poor health, Mrs. Cameron served as the primary breadwinner. When she was introduced to photography by one of her boarders, she decided to turn this leisure activity into a profession. With her Kodet plate camera, she began photographing local wildlife to accompany her husband’s nature articles. This was no small accomplishment, given her camera lacked a telephoto lens. Her affection for Montana’s expansive landscape is lovingly depicted in her portraits, which she captured by using a line of cattle or horses crossing the horizon to measure the width of space. Buildings in the foreground were effectively contrasted with the seemingly endless countryside.
For Evelyn Cameron, photography was synonymous with the individuality that attracted her to the American West. Her self-portraits were bold declarations, “I am who I am,” minus the overt romanticism of her fellow Victorian portraitists. She charged a quarter per photograph, could transfer images onto postcards upon request, and also sold albums for the postcards. In 1905, Mrs. Cameron purchased a Tourist Graflex for $255, which is the equivalent of $6,000 in modern currency. This camera, which the photographer referred to as Lexie, weighed 9 pounds and produced 5 x 7” glass plate negatives. With such a camera, spontaneity was out of the question. Portraits had to be carefully constructed and subjects had to be positioned so as to achieve the desirable lighting and shadow effects. Mrs. Cameron’s efforts were likened to those of a theatrical director, who painstakingly staged each scene/image.
The Camerons were forced to move several times due to Mr. Cameron’s failing health and to accommodate their dwindling financial circumstances. Mrs. Cameron was forced to give up photography altogether to care for her ailing husband, who died of cancer in 1915. Her devotion to her adopted homeland earned her, as one Englishwoman observed, the distinction as “the most respected woman” in Montana. Mrs. Cameron died of heart failure in 1928 at age 60, and her photography faded into obscurity until Donna Lucey – a book editor at Time-Life, discovered 1,800 negatives and 2,700 prints that had been stored in a Terry, Montana basement. Her subsequent volume, Photographing Montana 1894-1926: The Life and Works of Evelyn Cameron, extended Mrs. Cameron’s works beyond the boundaries of rural Montana. Her photographs, negatives, and journals were donated to the Montana Historical Society in Helena, and several of Evelyn Cameron’s photographs are proudly displayed at the Prairie County Museum in Terry, Montana.
2004 Encyclopedia of the Great Plains edited by David J. Wishart (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press), p. 113.
2018 Evelyn Cameron Heritage, Inc. (URL: http://evelyncameron.com/).
2007 Evelyn Cameron: Montana's Frontier Photographer by Kristi Hager (Helena, MT: Farcountry Press), pp. 1-6.
2016 Evelyn J. Cameron: Rugged Outdoors-Woman and Photographer (URL: http://womenoutwest.blogspot.com/2016/06/evelyn-j-cameron-rugged-outdoors-woman.html).
2010 Montana Moments: History on the Go by Ellen Baumler (Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press), p. 68.
2002 Outrageous Women of the American Frontier by Mary Rodd Furbee (New York: John Wiley & Sons), pp. 112-113.
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