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kottke.org posts about Lora Webb Nichols

Lora Webb Nichols’ Photographic Chronicle of the 20th Century American West

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2021

a woman stands in front of a car wearing a deerskin suit

a double exposed photo of a woman playing a banjo

a woman with very long hair bends over to show it off

This is fantastic: for more than 60 years beginning in 1899, Lora Webb Nichols captured and collected about 24,000 photographs of life in a small copper-mining town in Wyoming.

On October 28, 1899, Lora Webb Nichols was at her family’s homestead, near Encampment, Wyoming, reading “Five Little Peppers Midway,” when her beau, Bert Oldman, came to the door to deliver a birthday present. The sixteen-year-old Nichols would marry the thirty-year-old Oldman the following year, and divorce him a decade later. The gift, however — a Kodak camera — would change the course of her life. Between 1899 and her death, in 1962, Nichols created and collected some twenty-four thousand negatives documenting life in her small Wyoming town, whose fortunes boomed and then busted along with the region’s copper mines. What Nichols left behind might be the largest photographic record of this era and region in existence: thousands of portraits, still-lifes, domestic interiors, and landscapes, all made with an unfussy, straightforward, often humorous eye toward the small textures and gestures of everyday life.

You can browse the collection of her photos at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.