Reclamation Captures the Past - The Bureau Photographers Work

Early image of Bureau photographer taking photos on the plains
Early image of Bureau photographer taking photos on the plains. (View the full size image)

Photographs seen on the Glimpse the Past pages are a result of documentation of Reclamation Projects since the agency began in the early 1900's. Photographs were commonly used in the early years to document the benefits of Reclamation projects.

A view showing the geologic material at the site of Foss Dam, Oklahoma.
A view showing the geologic material at the site of Foss Dam, Oklahoma. (View the full size image)

Construction techniques and the resulting structures were often on the cutting edge of technology and were recorded on film by a resident photographer or an engineer with some photographic experience. As Reclamation matured, construction photography evolved to document the performance of contractors. This served to limit the opportunity for additional payment claims against the agency by contractors as well as to ensure their performance. The photos also served as a source of information about the site and construction of project facilities for their future operation and maintenance. As a result, many of the images taken by Reclamation are technical in nature and are not suitable for public display.

Produce for Sale
Typical early images showed crops, homesteads, and the need for project improvements such as this photo of produce for sale taken in 1914. (View the full size image)

Some Reclamation images are quite well known. Some projects created large numbers of images that span their entire history. Most of these images in the Great Plains Region now reside in the collections of the National Archives and local historical societies.

Old Photography Equipment
Typical equipment used by Reclamation photographers once included the Speed Graphic camera. (View the full size image)

Photographers often used bulky equipment and processed film and prints under primitive conditions. One primary consideration for the photographs taken was the ability to store them for long periods without deterioration. For that reason black and white images were common until the 1980's. Large format (4 by 5 inches or larger) film and cameras were used by most photographers. Roll film cameras were rare and were usually reserved for less experienced personnel that took photographs only as a part of their duties.

Boysen Dam
Image taken from July, 1949 Kodachrome 8 by 10 inch transparency of the construction of Boysen Dam, Wyoming. This is one of the earliest color images taken in the Great Plains Region. (View the full size image)

Early Settlers
This image is of a family waiting for delivery of water by Reclamation to their Idaho farm in 1940. (View the full size image)

Last Updated: 7/2/15