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Colorado: Yesterday and Today by Grant Collier

Review by Ed Quillen

Historic Photos – October 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Colorado: Yesterday and Today
by Grant Collier
Published in 2001 by Western Reflections
ISBN 1-890437-48-4

ONE OF THE DELIGHTS of photography is that it enables us to compare a scene from the remote past with the same scene from the recent past.

This must be a common pleasure, since one of the best-selling Colorado books of recent years was Colorado: 1870-2000 from John Fielder, who went through the archives of pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson and replicated them with modern shots.

Grant Collier did something like that here, although his connection with the pioneer photographer was more than professional. Joseph Collier, his great-great-grandfather, emigrated from Scotland in 1871 to Central City, Colorado.

He had taken up photography in the old country after a back injury ended his career as a blacksmith. Collier opened a studio and began traveling the state, gathering images that he could sell — as photographic prints, and as postcards and stereographs. In 1877, he moved to Denver, and continued his work until about 1900, when his health began to fail. He died in 1910.

As for his great-great-grandson Grant, “During the course of taking the photographs for this book, I have been asked … why I decided to undertake this project. Although the connection between me and my great-great-grandfather was certainly a factor, my primary goal was to document the changes that have taken place over the past 130 years.”

One change he remarks on, and one that is obvious just flipping through the book, is that there are a lot more trees now around the mining areas, which were denuded early on for fuel and timber.

Since the pioneer Collier lived in Central City and Denver, most images come from that area, and from the San Juans, where there was considerable mining excitement in the time when he was traveling the most.

But there are pictures from our part of the world: Poncha Springs from the hot springs; Hancock with a narrow-gauge train and in its present empty condition; an old Del Norte with few trees and the modern forested town; a crowded Silver Cliff and today’s town with many vacant lots; and some others.

In general, Grant Collier does a good job of following in his ancestor’s footsteps, but in some cases, he should have used a better camera that allowed, like the old-time heavy view camera, for correcting for vertical perspective.

So the modern tilting buildings can be annoying, but it’s also infrequent and seldom distracts from the pleasure of comparing the then-and-now shots.

Grant Collier’s writing is generally informative, but I hit a few snags. For instance, he frequently identifies donkeys as mules, and he often seems too intent on telling us that almost every aspect of our environment is worse now than it was 125 years ago — back when smelters belched toxic smoke and hydraulic mining ripped away hillsides and there were hardly any trees.

A more nuanced approach would make more sense, at least to me. But the main thing in a book like this is the pictures, and those are appealing and educational.

— Ed Quillen