THESE ADVENTUROUS WOMEN Photographed the California Desert in the 1920s
MAY 21, 2019 in AtlasObscura
We almost lost their work forever.
One average day in 1988, during his lunch break, the archaeologist and historian Ron May climbed into a Dumpster outside his office building.
Earlier that day, a colleague had dropped by dragging a heavy plastic sack filled with black photo albums that appeared to be quite old. Though May was an environmental management specialist who reviewed history and archeology reports for the County of San Diego, sometimes workers at the Office of the Public Administrator would ask May to assess the historic value of items from unclaimed estates of the deceased, so this visit was not unusual.
But when his colleague told him she’d recovered the photo albums after they were trashed by someone from the Public Administrator’s—and that there were more photos still inside the Dumpster—May’s curiosity was officially piqued. “I recognized this is stuff that should not have been thrown away,” May says.
Which is how he wound up among stacks of rotten food and smeared newspapers, urgently rescuing what turned out to be an extraordinary collection of black and white photographs taken by Susie Keef Smith, who died in 1988. Smith’s images, as well as pictures taken by her younger cousin Lula Mae Graves, are featured in the new book Postcards from Mecca, The California Desert Photographs of Susie Keef Smith and Lula Mae Graves, 1916-1936. Click here to continue