WACO, Texas (Oct. 30, 2018) - Fred Gildersleeve - one of the first commercial photographers in Texas - captured scenes of Waco life during the first 50 years of the 20th century, a time of tremendous growth, conflict, and change. On November 8, Baylor University's Texas Collection will host an event examining Gildersleeve's life and work and celebrating the launch of a new book, "Gildersleeve: Waco's Photographer." The event begins at 6 p.m. at the Mayborn Museum Theater, 1300 S. University Parks Dr., and is free to the public.
Published by Baylor Press, "Gildersleeve: Waco's Photographer," is authored by John S. Wilson, interim dean of Baylor Libraries, and Geoff Hunt, the audio and visual curator at The Texas Collection. The book features 186 of Gildersleeve's innovative photographs, including images that have never been published previously. The photographs artfully display subjects ranging from Baylor's campus to Waco's social life, culture, industrial progress, and agriculture industry in the early 20th century.
Wilson, who wrote the book's 15-page introduction, saw the book as an opportunity to present a more complete sketch of Gildersleeve's life and legacy than had been written in prior Waco history books. "He was this tremendously fascinating figure in Waco's history, but we didn't have a definitive history of his early life or his work as a commercial photographer in Waco prior to this book," Wilson said. "We wanted to document his importance not just to the local community but to the greater sphere of commercial photography and his support of innovative photographic technology."
"Gildersleeve: Waco's Photographer" is the first book-length publication focusing solely on Gildersleeve's historic work. Many of Waco's important moments were captured thanks to Gildersleeve's keen eye. Photos of the first Baylor homecoming parade, the construction of the Amicable Life Building (the ALICO), and life in Waco were captured by Gildersleeve and his cameras, as were an untold number of now-lost Waco businesses including restaurants, grocers, and clothing stores. The book also includes photos Gildersleeve took in Mexico and other areas around Texas, showcasing the regional and international scope of his work.
"People focus on the major landmarks like his photos of the suspension bridge or the crowds at a Baylor football game," Wilson said, "but we think there's equal importance in his photos of everyday life around Waco, from soldiers at Camp MacArthur to telegraph delivery boys to street sweepers. They all reveal the character of a city that is almost unrecognizable to modern eyes."
Gildersleeve's use of magnesium flash powder, quality lenses, and large-format negatives allowed his then-unprecedented photos to rival today's digital photography. There are thousands of Gildersleeve's photographs housed at The Texas Collection, but Hunt and Wilson only selected 186 for the book. Hunt used editing and digitization processes that revealed never-before-seen details in Gildersleeve's photographs.
"Getting these images ready for print allowed me to take a very close look at them in a way they hadn't been scrutinized for decades," Hunt said. "Gildersleeve had an amazing knack for lighting a scene just right and for capturing the importance of a scene in both the overall effect and in the details you see on a closer look. I think this book is the best way to showcase his virtuoso skill for a broader audience beyond archival researchers."
A reception and book signing will follow the lecture, along with the opportunity to purchase the book. For more information about the event, visit www.baylor.edu/library/gildersleevebook.