by Jerald T. Milanich on
By Jerald T. Milanich, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology, University of Florida
In 1904 Julian Anthony Dimock, then 31, and his 62 year-old father, Anthony Weston Dimock, found their way from New York City to Marco Island on the lower Gulf coast of Florida. Over the next decade the two former financiers traveled around south Florida by boat, canoe, and ox cart. Julian took photographs and both he and his father wrote several books and nearly 80 magazine and newspaper articles about the people, places, and the unique natural setting.
The Dimocks explored the coast as well as the vast wetlands to the east. In 1910 Julian served as photographer for an AMNH expedition sent to document the Seminole Indian settlements. Objects collected on the expedition, led by anthropologist Alanson Skinner, are on exhibit today in the Museum. Somewhat incredibly Julian took photographs of people wearing and using some of the items.
In 1920, following the death of his father two years earlier, Julian donated his entire collection of glass negatives to the American Museum of Natural History where they are curated in the Research Library.
The collection—described in the August, 1920 issue of Museologist, an in-house Museum newsletter as “upwards of 4,000 negatives—includes 2000 glass negatives from Florida along with images from South Carolina, Ellis Island, the Catskills, Canada, the southwest US, and elsewhere.” In 1996 then Director of the Research Library Nina J. Root published an article about Julian Dimock and his work in Natural History magazine (“Legacy of a Reluctant ‘Camera Man.’”). The next year Root posted a note, “Portraits of Tuskegee,” also in Natural History. Those articles were followed by the publication of Camera Man’s Journey (2002, edited by Thomas L. Thomas and Root). The book featured Julian’s photographs of African Americans in the South.
Several years later after she retired from the Library directorship, Root decided to initiate a project utilizing Julian’s photographs of Florida Seminole Indians. In 2007 she invited Jerald T. Milanich from the University of Florida to join her. They outlined a project and set about scanning some 200 of Julian’s glass negatives. Milanich learned that Julian’s catalog of his negatives that contained dates, locations, and often names of people had been transferred by AMNH archivists into the Research Library’s own catalog. The data allowed a detailed itinerary for the Dimocks’s travels to be constructed. When combined with information in the books and articles penned by Julian and his father and accession information from Skinner preserved in the files of the AMNH Department of Anthropology (along with articles written by Skinner), Milanich and Root were able to put together a remarkable account of the Dimocks, Skinner, and the Seminole Indians. That account and a selection of Julian’s photographs were published in 2011 as Hidden Seminoles—Julian Dimock’s Historic Florida Photographs. The book received the Gold Medal for Visual Arts from the Florida Book Awards.
A second book was planned and research into the Dimock’s southwest Florida adventures continued. With the support of Tom Baione, Harold Boeschenstein Director of the Department of Library Services at AMNH, and Barbara Mathe, head of Special Collections (along with financial support from the Everglades Society for Historical Preservation) the second book was published in 2013. Enchantments—Julian Dimock’s Photographs of Southwest Florida, was presented with the 2013 Florida Book Awards Gold Medal and it, too, provided the basis for an exhibit for which Milanich served as guest curator. “Enchantments - The Photographic Adventures of Julian Dimock in SW Florida 1904-1913,” supported by the Marco Island Historical Society, ran for three months at the Marco Island Historical Museum in early 2014. A portion of that exhibit has been incorporated into still another exhibit—“Enchantments: The Photographic Adventures of Julian Dimock & Clyde Butcher”—which opened in Fort Myers at the Southwest Museum of Florida History on May 2, 2014.
Julian Dimock’s Florida photographs, which Root and Milanich have deemed a national treasure, have garnered new audiences a century after first appearing in print. Julian Dimock would have been pleased that his wish for the Museum to preserve his glass negatives and make them available for future generations has come to fruition. The Museum’s Research Library has made many of Julian Dimock’s images available to the public through Digital Special Collections, which was launched in April of 2014, curated by Visual Resources Librarian, Stacy J. Schiff with website design and administration by Digital Projects Manager, Jen Cwiok. To see the stunning photographs of Dimock’s travels, visit the online Collections at http://images.library.amnh.org/digital/ .