The California Desert Photographs of Susie Keef Smith and Lula Mae Graves, 1916-1936
Susie Keef Smith was seeking escape from a troubled home life and the havoc of childhood polio when she and her cousin, Lula Mae Graves, set out to photograph the last of the prospectors, burro packers and stage stops in the remote desert east of California’s Salton Sea. They traveled by burro, foot and Ford though sandy washes and roadless canyons, armed with a .38 revolver and a large format camera. While making postcards for the PO spinner rack, the women were remade in the wilderness and wound up creating an unparalleled portrait of one of the lesser-known deserts in the West.
Susie’s photos were nearly lost to history when–upon her death–they were tossed out by a county administrator. A savvy archaeologist jumped into a dumpster and rescued many of the photos you see here. This book presents portraits of a mysterious land along with the story of its heroic chroniclers, self-taught documentary photographers of the 1920s and ’30s.