The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999

Book Reviews

of social histories dealing with the vanished countryside, and within a decade or
so his oral history tapes will be irreplaceable.
Austin, Texas Thad Sitton
Jazz Age Boomtown. By Jerry L. Rodnitzky and Shirley R. Rodnitzky. (College
Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997. Pp. xvi+155. Illustrations, pref-
ace, acknowledgments, introduction, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN o-
89096-757-1. $19.95, paper).
The authors of this handsome volume have provided a major service to re-
gional historians by making the photographs of Basil Clemons, itinerant photog-
rapher and Central Texas "character," available to a wide audience through the
publication and presentation of some of his most representative work. Clemons
was an itinerant photographer who photographed the citizens and events of
Breckenridge, Texas, over a thirty-year period from 1919 to 1949. While I have
not had the opportunity personally to inspect the entire canon of Clemons pho-
tographs in the Special Collections Library of the University of Texas at Arling-
ton, it seems likely that the authors are correct when they state that "Clemons's
192o's photos are by far his most exciting work" (p. 6).
The reviewer commends the authors of this volume not only for the valuable
contribution of providing wider exposure for Clemons's iconoclastic pho-
tographs but also for the context in which these photographs are placed. While
the primary emphasis of the book is to give Clemons his full due and to hold the
captioning to a minimum, the authors nevertheless manage to provide valuable
context for the photographs. The book contains genuinely interesting informa-
tion about Clemons's life and career as an itinerant photographer whose jour-
neys carried him from Alaska to Texas and around much of the United States. In
addition, the authors have found the appropriate words to capture the essence of
the social institutions (or lack thereof) flourishing in Texas oilfield boomtowns of
the 192os. They have arranged the photographs into appropriate and interesting
subdivisions, focusing on such topics as Sports and Recreation, Entertainment,
Women and Fashion, The Oil Boom, Faces of the People, and Main Street. For
each of these sections the authors have contributed a short essay describing the
conditions under which Clemons worked, and articulated their version of the
photographer's vision as he sought to capture the "feel" of the community during
a boisterous decade. Jazz Age Boomtown has, among its other attributes, a fascinat-
ing record of civic development. We see Breckenridge adapting to the boomtown
atmosphere and growing from a community of muddy streets and wooden build-
ings to a more prosperous, yet somehow never sedate, county seat with all of the
fashionable accoutrements of the era: palaces, traveling circuses, the Miss
Breckenridge contest, the new high school, the fashion statements made by both
men and women of the era, and developments in local haberdashery and trans-
portation. A few striking and ultimately disturbing photographs come from the
period in which Clemons worked as a medical photographer in Breckenridge.

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101219/. Accessed April 26, 2015.