A Texas Journey: The Centennial Photographs of Polly Smith

Evelyn Barker

Texas in the beginning of the 20th century is an alien world; slightly familiar but ultimately foreign. This is apparent in Evelyn Barker’s collection of photographs by an artist named Polly Smith. Smith, 27 at the time, was hired in 1935 to photograph the Lone Star State in preparation for the centennial celebration of Texas’ independence from Mexico. For eight months she traveled the state with a bulky camera developing pictures in a makeshift darkroom in her truck. The pictures show a fantasized view of Texas—oil, cattle and Spanish missions—but Smith also captured the skyscrapers, parks and people that eluded the country’s consciousness. Some shots are easily passed over, but selective frames capture a time long lost. The silhouetted frames of “Workmen at an oil derrick” are a haunting reminder of the billions of lives we’ll never know.