Last year we found these photographs of Mexican ruins. They are quite beautiful gelatin silver prints, on a semi-mat paper. Along with the captions taped on the back of each image there was a name: Nugent M. Clougher.
Who was he? What was he doing in Mexico? When were these photographs taken?
At first we had accredited the images to him, and even though we didn’t know who he was, it seemed evident he was the photographer. His name was right there.
That’s when a little research can change everything we thought we knew. A few months later we found a chapter written by him in the review, The wonders of the world : a popular and authentic account of the marvels of nature and of man as they exist to-day, published in (1911). The chapter on North America shows a mix of photographs of Mount Peléz in Martinique, the Great Fountain Geyser in Yellowstone Park, the Caves of Bellamar in Cuba, and different ruins in Mexico amongst other things. Clougher was a writer, not a photographer.
We believe the photographs we are showing you here have never been published before. It seems they were outtakes of the story and did not make it to the final layout of the book.
Based on the credit line on the publication we were able to trace back the images to the National Railway of Mexico.
It is known that photographers such as C.B. Waite, Winfield Scott, Abel Briquet and William Henry Jackson were contracted by the Mexican Central Railway to document the railway system in Mexico in the late XIX century in order to inform potential investors and tourists about the accessibility of a strange and different land, to record the victory of technology over a seemingly obdurate nature, and to celebrate “an American colonial power that would move to center stage in a few years”.
However, we don’t have any evidence pointing towards any of them being the creators of the photographs we’re showing you. We’ve yet to find out who the photographer was, so as of now the images are archived as anonymous.
For the moment we will leave you with this question: which other photographers were commissioned by the National Railway of Mexico? Especially those shooting around the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.
For years the Mexican railroad companies produced an extensive amount of visual materials for a variety of pamphlets, brochures, timetables and guidebooks; these could be everywhere and anywhere, the challenge will be finding the right author.
Mraz, John. Looking for Mexico: Modern Visual Culture and National Identity. Durham: Duke UP, 2009. Print.