PICTURE RELIEF: PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVES FROM THE JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF COLLECTION AT THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU LIBRARY
This week’s blog post comes to you courtesy of Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn. Rochelle has been tirelessly cataloguing and providing metadata links to a treasure trove of rare primary source materials donated by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. Here is her report:
On December 1st, my dear friends Tim and Lisa got married in a marvelous sea-side ceremony. That Saturday night they were dancing the night away and eating wedding cake with us. The following afternoon, Tim and Lisa flew directly to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. The family’s generator company had been contracted to partake in Hurricane Sandy relief. A month later, after working 7am to 7pm days assisting the U.S. Army in setting up power lines and large generators in hard-hit areas of New York, my friends finally came home.
Living in South Florida somewhat hardens you to the messes that come with hurricanes. Days without power in stifling heat, downed trees, gas shortages, damaged houses—most of us have felt the pain of these dire circumstances in Andrew, Katrina, Wilma, and Rita, to name a few of our unwelcome “visitors.” With hurricanes in the 21st century, however, we benefit from technologically cutting-edge warning systems that provide us with time to prepare for the inevitable, or even to flee from an approaching tropical storm. Earthquakes, however, are another story: while scientists now have clues to the possibility of pinpointing areas susceptible to disaster, there is still practically no warning time before catastrophe strikes.
One of the deadliest earthquakes in the world occurred in 1935 at Quetta, Baluchistan, British India – an area now part of Pakistan. This original photograph album from the Jean S. and Frederic Sharf Collection was compiled by an unidentified twenty-one year old soldier in the British Army. It documents his travels before and after the ’quake, and his efforts to clean up the immense level of carnage left in its wake.
Our man shows us his ship of transport, dating the beginning of his journey December 13, 1934.
Early photos of the Egyptian streets in Port Said are accompanied by hand-drawn sketches of palm trees and architectural details:
A stop at the Suez Canal includes captures of mountains and camels:
In 1935 our unnamed soldier enters Baluchistan. These photos show a chum with his dog, the somewhat spare Quetta Railway Station, and contrasting scenes of weather in the severe but breathtaking landscape.
In the heart of Quetta, he runs across the ubiquitous “chai wallahs,” or tea sellers, of India. A magnificent steam locomotive runs through the hills of Bolan Pass. A cheerful British soldier leans against a signpost that reads “London 5877” miles “thataway.”
To keep up their humor, the British entertained each other with an improvised amateur theater ensemble, dubbed the “Quetta Quakes”:
The album compiler juxtaposes photographs of “The Cookhouse” and “The Dhobi,” above an image of jovial friends on “Xmas Day,” 1936.
The album closes with “before” and “after” photos of Sandeman Memorial Hall. The only portion of the architectural gem left intact was its crowning dome, shown perched on top of rubble. With typical gallows humor our unknown British soldier includes a photograph of a makeshift outdoor movie theater underneath, with the cheerful caption, “Earthquake-proof talkies.”
My friends Tim & Lisa didn’t see any “talkies” as comic relief from their cleanup efforts in Brooklyn, but they did catch the Rockettes’ annual Christmas show on a side-trip to Manhattan. No photographs of leggy showgirls appear in our soldier’s 1935 Quetta album—the Rockettes would have been at their debut concert in Rockefeller Center that year. I have no doubt, however, had there been a high-kicking female in the fields of Baluchistan, our unnamed man would have made sure to have photographed her.