Tonopah: Then & Now
May – June 2013
Photographer Jim Galli walks a mile in F. W. Sheelor’s shoes—literally and figuratively.
BY MATTHEW B. BROWN
Tonopah photographer Jim Galli has earned quite the reputation for connecting the past to the present via his black-and white images. But these aren’t digital pictures converted with modern computer software—these are the real deal, taken with a circa 1910 Kodak Cirkut panoramic camera.
Galli’s latest work of art centers around an image that is quite famous in Tonopah terms. The larger-than-life original 1913 image, taken by F. W. Sheelor, is owned by the town’s Central Nevada Museum. A smaller framed duplicate hangs in the Nye County Courthouse.
Galli stitched together nine scans to produce the digital version of Sheelor’s image that you see here. “People…have no clue about the rather advanced technology that was in place a century ago to record that much information on a single, very large piece of film,” Galli says. Then came the challenge of finding the exact location where Sheelor stood in 1913 in order to re-create the image 100 years later. Galli’s first try proved unsuccessful, as closer inspection showed that Sheelor had taken his photo from a higher vantage point—”a lot higher,” Galli says. This is where the connection to the past became all the more transparent:
I went back a few days later equipped with a small copy of Sheelor’s picture. I started going up, up, up. The higher I went, the looser the material beneath my feet became. Downright dangerous. Still higher.
I discovered timbers sticking out of the rocks just where the slope turns into sheer cliffs. There is no other reason for the timbers other than that Sheelor himself must have built a platform while he was waiting for his camera to be made. When I stood on the timbers, everything lined up perfectly. I had found the original site that Sheelor built 100 years ago!
The previous paragraphs are exactly how Galli tells it. Now that he had discovered the platform on Brougher Mountain (Brougher Avenue runs northeast in the center of the images), he still had to take the photo. “For the next try, I had my brother and nephew as Sherpas to help me pack the 50-pound camera up the hill,” he says. “We got excellent results…but I used the wrong lens elements. My image was 74 inches long. Sheelor’s was 51.5 inches.”
Galli made the trek yet again, only this time with no assistance, and managed to get it right on his fourth try. He says the camera and lens he used are identical to Sheelor’s #10 Kodak Cirkut outfit. “We have even considered putting the camera in some suspended state with film, so someone can go up and do the 2113 image. The camera will still work fine,” Galli concludes.