Muybridge in Alaska: 1868
A traveling exhibition of original Muybridge views of Alaska
Muybridge in Alaska: 1868 was an unprecedented traveling exhibition of Muybridge’s historic Alaskan views that toured Alaska in 2019. Featuring 16 original stereo views and a special carte de visit inscribed by Muybridge to a Tlingit chief, the show was presented at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, the Sheldon Museum in Haines, and the Nolan Center in Wrangell.
On July 29, 1868 Muybridge departed for Alaska aboard the steamship Pacific as part of an expedition led by Major-General Henry W. Halleck, commander of the U.S. Military Division of the Pacific.
The Pacific arrived at Tongass Island on August 13, before moving on to Wrangle (now Wrangell) and Sitka over the next few days. Known then as Edward Muybridge and by the pseudonym Helios, Muybridge made photographs at each stop, the first ever taken of Tlingit people, and the first of Alaska to be widely seen by the public.
In 1868, photography was still a young technology. Cameras of the day were simple wooden boxes fitted with lenses. Negatives were produced on glass plates that the photographer bathed in a chemical solution just prior to exposing the image. The photographs were developed immediately afterward in the field. Images could take many seconds or even minutes to expose; subjects that moved could blur or disappear altogether. Muybridge transported his equipment in a horse-drawn carriage he dubbed The Flying Studio, which also served as his darkroom.
“The photographic artist, ‘Helios,’ … had come to Sitka with dismal forebodings that the fog would so obscure the face of nature as to render his art valueless,” wrote a reporter on the trip. “(B)ut now he had struck a streak of sunshine and was determined to make pictures while it lasted. With shirt-sleeves rolled up, and hair on end, he trotted his flying studio through the town while the daylight lasted, and was enabled to get a number of excellent views.”
Most of Muybridge’s Alaska photographs are stereo views, side-by-side pictures taken simultaneously with a double-lensed camera. When seen through a viewer called a stereoscope the two pictures merge into a single three-dimensional image.
These photographs capture Southeast Alaska just weeks after the United States delivered 7.2 million dollars to Russia to finalize the purchase of the territory. For the U.S., Alaska was a new frontier ripe for exploitation. However, for Alaska Natives, who were neither consulted on the sale nor compensated, the U.S. had stolen their land, on which they had lived since “time immemorial.” Under the direction of Major General Henry Halleck, the U.S. governed with military force. Within months of Muybridge’s visit to Sitka, a clash between Tlingit and U.S. soldiers ended with U.S. soldiers killing several Tlingit. The following December in Wrangell, in response to another dispute, U.S. soldiers bombarded the neighboring Tlingit village of Ḵaachx̱an.áakʼw for two days and then publicly hanged the village shaman. To this day, Tlingit and other Alaskan Native people continue to struggle for land, resources, and rights.
Muybridge in Alaska: 1868 was organized and curated by Marc Shaffer.
Original stereo views courtesy of Leonard A. Walle. Inscribed carte de visite courtesy of Mary Everson.
Major support for Muybridge in Alaska: 1868 was provided by the Atwood Foundation.
Muybridge in Alaska: 1868 was made possible with funding by Rasmuson Foundation through the Harper Arts Touring Fund, and is administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Additional support was provided in part by a grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Production support provided by Angela Demma and the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
Tom Harris and Dan Monteith are advisors to Muybridge in Alaska: 1868.
For additional information see:
Going to Alaska. / Among the Northern Indians—Painted Savages with Modern Civilization—Mineral indications—Morning at Sitka—Not a Fur Country—Concerning Indians—Indian Incremation—Is Alaska a Good Bargain? Daily Alta California, September 11, 1868
Halleck, Henry. DIVISION OF THE PACIFIC. Official Report of Major General Halleck. Daily Alta California, December 14, 1868
Halleck, Henry. THE CESSION OF ALASKA,; Gen. Halleck’s Official Instructions to Gen. Jefferson C. Davis, the New Commander. New York Times, December 12, 1867
Jones, Zachary. The 1869 Bombardment of Ḵaachx̱an.áakʼw from Fort Wrangell: U.S. Army Response to Tlingit Law, Wrangell, Alaska. Washington DC: American Battlefield Preservation Program; Juneau, AK: Sealaska Heritage Institute, 2015. Part 1 and Part 2
Gmelch, Sharon Bohn. The Tlingit Encounter with Photography. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2008.
Kan, Sergei. Sharing Our Knowledge: the Tlingit and Their Coastal Neighbors. University of Nebraska Press. 2015