Looking Through to the Past: by C.A. Fuhs

 

Charles A. Fuhs was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, to parents who emigrated from Germany in the mid‐1800s. Due to an acute bronchial disorder, Charles was unable to find work in the industrial city of Portsmouth and set out for Texas upon graduation, where he began a career as a transient photographer. Fuhs traveled by train with his photography equipment in tow, renting storefronts to connect to customers and store his heavy equipment of a tripod to steady a long exposure, a chest full of glass to imprint an image, a dark room and a series of trays and vats of custom‐made caustic chemicals to beg a picture from the glass plate. Families not only wanted photographs to document themselves in formal portraits suitable for wall hanging, they also wanted special events recorded including births, deaths, marriages, baptisms and the like. There were many small towns and few big cities in Texas or Oklahoma during this period, so demand for a storefront could easily be exhausted in a short time. This meant packing up all of the equipment and moving to the next town. Whether it be Grand Saline, Weatherford, Waxahachie or Wills Point, all towns needed a photographer passing through sometime during the year. The term transient photographer was coined. Charles became a transient photographer.

While he traveled widely, the boomtown spirit of Wichita Falls caught his attention most often. He found the pace of change exhilarating as any newcomer would. A suddenly created forest of oil derricks marked the skyline of Burkburnett, with people literally paying others to carry them across a muddy street on their backs. Three high‐rise office, bank and hotel buildings were going up at the same intersection (8th and Scott), reflecting a transformed boomtown to an established community. Railroads and streetcars were opened and extended. Parades marched down Indiana Street; Sputter Ball Park hosted a professional league. Houses were being constructed in a day, and Charles photographed in time‐lapse sequence this progress. He photographed businesses and baptisms, boarding houses and back alleys. While these events helped document the events of the time, the soul of Fuhs’ photographs were in the faces of so many he captured. The rich and poor were equally treated and respected. In keeping with accepted traditions, people dressed up for photographs, often in formalized settings. Group portraits ranged from gatherings around the homestead to special places like parks, churches, schools and businesses. Some portraits required meticulous preparation, such as an assembling of railroad workers around their steam engine or roundhouse with carefully positioned engines taken from atop a utility pole.

 

Partially funded by Humanities Texas

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