Porter C. Thayer Photographs
This archive contains 1300 photographs made by Porter C. Thayer,scanned from silver gelatin prints, held in the collection of the Brooks Memorial Library. The prints were made in 1980 from the 5x7 glass plates negatives created by Porter Thayer....
This archive contains 1300 photographs made by Porter C. Thayer,scanned from silver gelatin prints, held in the collection of the Brooks Memorial Library. The prints were made in 1980 from the 5x7 glass plates negatives created by Porter Thayer. These images are also available on microfilm at the Brattleboro library.
Porter Thayer was born Porter Charlie Thayer on January 6, 1882 on Main Street in Williamsville, Vermont. He grew up in the red house called the Tillotson Place in the Parish section of Newfane, Vermont.
He photographed Windham County, Vermont, beginning in 1906 through around 1920. Like most Vermont men of his generation he was a farmer, specifically an apple orchardist, managing his 50 acre apple orchard on Baker Brook Farm in Newfane. He turned to his apple business after ending his photographic career.
The postcard craze that most likely reached Vermont by about 1905, was perhaps the impetus for Porter Thayer starting up a photographic business. His diaries tell that he sold 1,197 postal cards during a six-month period at the height of his career. The cards were for sale as souvenirs to summer tourists at small general stores, local inns, boarding houses and hotels. Local folks purchased his photographs as well, especially around the Christmas season, to send to distant relatives. A Brattleboro, Vermont directory of 1909 lists Porter as advertising that he would come to anyone’s home and make images for a reasonable fee. Around 1911 he recorded that he had 720 customers. Eventually he photographed in all the towns within a 25 mile radius of his home in Newfane.
Porter Thayer perfectly fits the archetype of the town photographer. He traveled the narrow dirt roads in his buggy, behind his faithful mare Lady, who accompanied him daily. He could apparently take extended naps while Lady brought him safely home, as she always knew the way. He used two cameras: a 5 x 7 and a 6.5 x 8.5 view camera and made glass dry-plate negatives. He traveled with stacks of postcards to be delivered at stores along the way to his days work.
Working continually through seasons and years, Porter Thayer left an archive that is a cultural treasure for southeastern Vermont. The quality of his work shows that he was able to combine business needs with aesthetic ones. During the time period Porter worked, Vermont was extremely poor and rural, yet held a close-knit population that shared the labors of life. Farmers helped one another to survive in a subsistence and barter economy. For women, men, and children, life meant constant work. Thayer’s images describe the work and the tools involved. His landscape images reveal this working landscape, which today is mostly hidden by trees. The fruits of his labor as a photographer have grown in importance, as both the landscape and culture of Vermont has shifted into modern spheres of living.
Written by Jessica Weitz and Forrest Holzapfel, 2010.