Photography of Homer L. Shantz

Dr. Homer L. Shantz (1876-1958) was a leading American botanist and former president of the University of Arizona. He was born in Michigan in 1876, was educated at Colorado College, and received his PhD from the University of Nebraska in 1905. He performed many important duties during his lifetime, including research with the Department of Agriculture, guidance of the botany department of the University of Illinois, President of the University of Arizona, and leadership of the Division of Wildlife Management for the Forest Service.

Dr. Shantz was also a remarkable photographer. He traveled widely, with an emphasis on the American West and Africa, and made documentary photographs wherever he went. The Shantz Photograph collection, housed for historical reasons at ARIZ (the vascular plant herbarium at the University of Arizona), contains four to five thousand photographs and negatives, as well as field books and other annotations.

Among Dr. Shantz's research interests was photographic documentation of vegetation change. The sites from which four of his series of photos were made were revisited and re-photographed decades later. In the late 1950s, Shantz and Walter S. Phillips re-photographed many locations from the central part of America (Shantz and Phillips, 1963). With B.L. Turner, Shantz had earlier re-photographed many African sites (Shantz and Turner, 1958). The most complex of these collaborative efforts resulted in McGinnies, Shantz, and McGinnies (1991). The third author worked with Shantz in the 1950s to re-photograph sites originally documented by Shantz just after the turn of the century. The first McGinnies (son of the third author) then re-photographed the sites in the mid-1980s (after the deaths of both Shantz and the senior McGinnies), and completed the now published volume. Dr. R. M. Turner, now retired from the U.S.G.S. at the Desert Station on Tumamoc Hill, is producing a third view of Shantz' earlier matched photographs from Kenya. Shantz first made photographs in Arizona during the teens. He began focusing on the Arizona-Sonoran desert area intensively in 1931 and continued for about twenty-five years. Also notable in the collection are a number of exquisite photographs of Native Americans.

Shantz's works are a valuable resource, both locally and globally. Photographic documentation of vegetational change is an important survey method that helps researchers understand the impact that climate change and human activities have on our environment. Sadly, the negatives are deteriorating. The earliest negatives are preserved on glass, but most are of the nitrate type which degrade over time. Fortunately, in most cases, a positive print accompanies the negatives. However, the condition of the negatives restricts their use. For example, portions of the African Expedition collection have been requested by botanists in Africa for comparison with current conditions but the condition of the negatives and the limited number of prints dictate that access be limited to local viewing. The herbarium is eager to work with researchers, archivists, and funding agencies toward securing the collection for the future.

The University of Arizona Library used library funding set aside for strategic opportunities to collaborate with the University of Arizona Herbarium to digitize 6,500 photos and make them openly accessible. This digitization will prove invaluable since there is no preservation for the original negatives.