The Itinerant Photographer Collection consists of 473 glass-plate negatives, taken
between late January and early March of 1934, that document businesses in Corpus
Christi, Texas, and the nearby cities and towns of Galveston, Sinton, Woodsboro,
Refugio. The images represent a cross-section of daily life in coastal Texas as
depict the workers, clients, and patrons of the businesses. Included are men and
women of various economic, professional, and ethnic backgrounds, such as business
owners and employees, professionals and their assistants, government workers,
manual laborers, as well as African-American and Hispanic workers.
The negatives were grouped during the 1970s into eight business categories, and this
arrangement has been retained. The categories are: Agricultural Industry, Building
Construction, Business, Government, Manufacturing, Recreation, Services, and
More than half the collection falls under the Business category, which is divided
into two subgroups, retail and wholesale. Retail Business, the largest group (228
negatives), consists of images of car dealerships, dry goods stores, drug stores,
cafes, grocery stores, department stores, and hardware stores. Wholesale Business
(26 negatives) includes images of beverage suppliers, grocery dealers, and oil
The Services category, also large in size, is divided into the following
subcategories: Automotive, Business, Medical, and Personal. Automotive Services
negatives) includes images of repair shops, garages, and parts shops. Business
Services (26 negatives) consists of images depicting law offices, real estate
companies, telegraph offices, and transportation companies, among others. The
in Medical Services (11 negatives) depict physicians, dentists, and optometrists.
Personal Services (56 negatives) is comprised of images of barber shops, dry
cleaners, laundries, hotels, beauty salons, and shoe repair shops.
Government consists of 56 negatives of offices, all of which were located in the old
1919 Nueces County Courthouse. Included are images of the offices of judges,
courthouse officials, and sheriffs, as well as a number that are unidentified.
The Manufacturing category consists of 33 negatives. Included are images of bottling
companies, iron works, printing companies, and machine shops.
The smallest categories are Agriculture Industry (8 negatives), Building Construction
(1 negative), Recreation (1 negative), and Unidentified Businesses (4 negatives).
Agricultural Industry includes images of a cotton company, an elevator company,
seed companies. The Building Construction negative shows the interior of a
commercial tiling firm, the Recreation negative depicts a group of men inside
hall, and the Unidentified Businesses negatives show interior views of offices.
The photographs were not intended as documentary images for advertising or
journalistic purposes, but as mementos for the people depicted. The images are
as formal as studio portraits, but they are more formal than snapshots. Because
photographer was not directly associated with the businesses and took these
photographs essentially on the spur of the moment, the images possess an
improvisational quality. As a result, these images capture how these businesses
actually appeared to the public, with the occasional stained and unswept floor,
soiled uniforms, messy desks, haphazard wiring and bare light bulbs, etc.
The images contain detailed information about the histories of Texas and Corpus
Christi, as well as life during the Great Depression. Specifically, seventy percent
of the businesses depicted are identified by name, and hundreds of owners and
employees are also individually identified. As a set of images the collection
valuable resource for scholarship in a myriad of historical disciplines, as the
details in the scenes document aspects of the period's culture. Images of automotive
garages with various cars and offices with both telegraph terminals and telephones
reflect changes in the technology of the time. Popular forms of entertainment
evident in images of cafes with slot machines on their counters. The differences
between independent and chain businesses are revealed in merchandise displays.
Images of full-service groceries with large cases and counters and self-service
stores with wicker baskets for customers and stacked goods show evolving business
practices. Signage indicates prices of commodities as well as political inclinations
(such as posters in support of the National Recovery Administration and portraits
The Harry Ransom Center acquired the collection in 1976 from Dr. John F. "Doc" McGregor, a Corpus Christi
chiropractor-turned-photographer. McGregor had received the glass plates in the
1960s from George Tallmadge, in whose photography studio the plates had originally
been developed and then abandoned. The locations and people seen in the negatives
were identified primarily by Corpus Christi resident Eric Warren, whose employment
with the Delco Light Company had taken him to many of the buildings pictured,
allowing him to recognize many of the pictured businesses. Ransom Center Photography
Curator Joe Coltharp and photographer Ave Bonar assisted Warren with identifications
and created an initial inventory and the subject categories. Later identifications
and re-identifications were made in the mid-1980s by Sybil Miller while conducting
research on the collection for her book Itinerant
Photographer: Corpus Christi, 1934 (Albuquerque: University of New
Mexico Press, 1987).
|| Until 2010, the only access to the collection was through a series of binders containing contact prints of the negatives arranged by topic. While useful, the binders were not electronically accessible, and the contact prints lacked image detail visible in the original negatives. General access to the negative was summarily denied, because although the majority survived intact, some showed signs of age and wear in the form of cracked glass and peeling emulsion. In 2009, the Ransom Center applied for and received a TexTreasures grant made possible by a generous grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act. With this funding, the Ransom Center was able to preserve and digitize all the negatives and create a Web portal to the collection. The collection is now accessible online at http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/itinerant/.