Skip to main content

Mirror Of Zion

July 2024
1min read

The Utah Photographs of George Edward Anderson

When George Edward Anderson was born at Salt Lake City in 1860, Brigham Young’s desert kingdom—“the resting place of Israel for the last days”—still stood defiantly apart from the rest of America, embattled and alone. By the time Anderson died in 1928, Utah had been a loyal and contented state of the American Union for more than three decades. Anderson chronicled that peaceful transformation with his camera.

His English father and Scottish mother were Mormon converts who had made their arduous way to Zion by wagon train, and he was brought up according to the demanding tenets of the faith. He learned to make pictures while barely in his teens, serving as apprentice to the famous photographer Charles R. Savage. Anderson went into business for himself at seventeen, first at Salt Lake City, later with tent galleries in several southern Utah towns, including Manti, where, in 1888, he was married in the newly built temple on the preceding page. A studio at Springville soon became his headquarters (“the largest and most complete establishment of this nature in…Utah,” according to the local newspaper), but he was rarely home, preferring to roam the territory taking pictures everywhere he went—some 40,000 of them.

He should have prospered but he did not. Part of his problem lay with his reluctance to insist on payment. “Delivered Gudmunsen picture,” he once wrote in his journal. “Poor man is going blind and there is a lady who is sick in bed all winter…so gave the lady…$3 back.” But it was his lifelong devotion to his church that impoverished him. Like most dutiful Mormon men, he took time out from his business to serve without pay as a missionary. He also became Mormon Bishop of the Springville second ward, and acted as spiritual leader for almost one hundred families; then, toward the end of his life, he undertook an exhausting series of vast—and also unpaid—projects for the church, singlehandedly trying to document every milestone on the Mormons’ march to Utah. A friend recalled that “The ground he travelled was hallowed to him. I can almost hear him say ‘I must have a picture of this sacred spot.…When I return all will be changed. Some of these old landmarks will be obliterated. Who will see them as I see them now?’”

Anderson died poor and largely forgotten. Forty-four years later, in 1972, a local photographer named ReIl Francis came into possession of nearly 10,000 Anderson negatives. He has spent the intervening years printing and cataloguing them. This fall the Amon Carter Museum and the University of Nebraska Press will jointly publish his book, The Utah Photographs of George Edward Anderson , from which our portfolio has been drawn.


Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.