Revisiting the first outside glimpse at Alaska, 151 years later

Published: Feb. 18, 2019 at 6:24 PM AKST
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The “Eadweard Muybridge in Alaska, 1868” photography collection appears to be made up of several pairs of tiny photographs, side by side and seemingly identical; however, when those images are viewed through a set of stereoscopic goggles, the 151-year-old photos jump out of the frame.

Muybridge’s photos were the first glimpses that many Americans got of Alaska — 39 tiny photos, with three dimensions, taken about two weeks after the U.S. finalized its purchase of the Alaska Territory from Russia.

Muybridge accompanied General Henry Halleck on an early expedition to the scout the new land. It was during this voyage that he captured photos of Alaska’s indigenous tribes, Russian orthodox communities and untamed landscape. His stereoscopic pictures painted Alaska in a mysterious, exotic light that sparked worldwide interest.

Marc Sahffer is a filmmaker whose project “Exposing Muybridge” takes a look at his legacy as a photographer. He was surprised to stumble upon the collection of Alaska photos, which are largely overlooked.

“Muybridge is known for his work in motion photography,” Shaffer said. “There had been whole books written about his work in Central America, his work in Yosemite ... But his Alaska work was generally just brushed over.”

Shaffer eventually decided to compile a collection of Muybridge’s work from the 49th state to be put on display. The exhibition includes two never before published photographs by Muybridge, which Shaffer managed to track down during his research.

The collection will be open for public viewing at the Alaska Native Heritage Center until March 27, before moving to Haines for an April-May showing. It will then be on exhibit in Sitka through July.

"These are the first photographs of Alaska that were widely seen by people outside of Alaska," Shaffer said. "There's never been a set like this one that's on display. It's a rare unprecedented opportunity.