Author Archives: Signe Nichols

The Life and Adventures of Emma Russell Photographer of the Old West

And They Become Friends by Gail Russell ©
And They Become Friends

I just had bought a beautiful old 4 by 5 Graflex camera from Manuel Bravo’s assistant it used to be his (Manuel Bravo is was Mexico’s equivalent to Edward Weston).

As I held it in my hands, I began thinking of what project I could do with this old-timey classic camera that gave me a nice four by five negative.

I thought what if I was a photographer living in the Southwest in the 1880s? the more I thought about the idea the more I liked it, thus the Life and Times of Emma Russell photographer of the West was born — an historical photographic novel.

At the time, my friend Cyrus Gros Ventre was living on the place caretaking my property. He was a very photographic full blood Crow Indian. Cyrus is also an artist and we had any number of interesting characters traipsing in and out of our lives. The most challenging thing, before setting up the photographs was finding the right wardrobe for people living in the 1880s.

In Taos, there were a couple of choice galleries and private collections that had some clothing from the old times. One of the treasures I found was a beautiful pair of beaded fringed buckskin riding gloves. My own pow wow dresses were made in the traditional cloth old style and Cyrus had a magnificent Crow breastplate that he had made himself.

So much time I during the project, was spend finding and collecting or borrowing pieces of wardrobe. When we had things together, I’d stage things and drag out my tripod and make some photographs.

One day I had returned from town ferreting out more period props. Cyrus and his cousin John who is visiting, met me at the door with their eyes as big as pie plates!

“You gotta see this you’re not gonna believe it,” said Cyrus as he led me around the corner of the house. At the end of the adjacent field, there calmly eating grass was four horses on a picket line, their riders all dressed in 1880s gear, were unsaddling them — my eyes were biggest pie plates!

I later learned that that they were making an historical ride along the Santa Fe trail and had started in Missouri along the Santa Fe Trail all the way, heading for Santa Fe and they stopped at the bar down at the corner, inquiring where they might find lodging where their horses would be welcome.

They were sent up to my place and The Spirit of Emma Russell was alive and well!