Houston, Texas And Surrounding Areas: Circa 1945-1951. Item #2356
396 mostly black and white film negatives, most measuring 3 7/8” x 5¼”; 38 standard 35mm color slide transparencies in cardboard mounts; 18 larger (2”x 2”) color slides in cardboard mounts; 18 black and white glass slides measuring 2” x 2”; five page typescript and some ephemera. Most items loose, some negatives in envelopes with identification. Generally very good or better, some negatives with a vinegar odor, most glass slides with flecks of loss, a couple with cracks. This is a collection of negatives and ephemera from the early career of Caroline Valenta, considered one of the first (if not the first) female photojournalists in Houston. Valenta, from Shiner, Texas, joined the Houston Post as a staff photographer during her senior year in college in 1945, and within months her photos were getting national recognition. One of her photos from the 1947 Texas City disaster was nominated for a Pulitzer and two of her photos were chosen by Edward Steichen for a 1949 exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art. In 1952, she and her family moved to New York City where she worked for the Daily News but she also went on assignment nationally for Life, Time, Fortune, Ebony and others. In a book from 1978 on great news photos, she's the only female photographer represented. The collection consists of negatives and ephemera from her time in Houston and includes at least 21 images showing the Texas City disaster and its aftermath. The explosion occurred April 16, 1947 when a fire aboard a ship caused 2,200 tons of ammonium nitrate to detonate, causing a chain reaction of explosions of other ships and nearby oil storage facilities. At least 581 people died and it is considered the worst industrial accident in United States history. Included in the collection is a five page typescript, with Valenta's handwritten corrections, detailing her experience covering the event. Written a little under a year after the tragedy, she provided a step-by-step account beginning with her boss ordering her to the scene and her 50 mile drive weaving through traffic to get there. In her haste to arrive, she failed to bring much film, causing her to spend up to 15 minutes between each shot because each one had to count. She described seeing dead bodies, and parts of bodies, every 25 feet as well as her efforts and thought processes that led to the photo that gained her the Pulitzer nomination. At one point, she had to flee the area because of a poison gas leak. She also described walking among the dazed survivors who were so in shock they could not cry. The images of the disaster included in this collection show demolished buildings surrounded by swirling clouds of smoke, charred bodies, and rescue and recovery efforts. There are also two images in color, the only color images we've been able to locate of the disaster, as well as the photo that won her a Pulitzer nomination as a (cracked) glass transparency. Valenta was known throughout the surrounding Houston area for speeding to scenes in her 1929 Model A Ford that had nearly 300,000 miles. The car was so well known that police recognized the vehicle from a distance on the day of the Texas City explosion, waving her through and allowing her to be one of the first photographers on the ground. A series of images show Valenta with her beloved vehicle, and there are a number of self portraits as well as shots showing her with her camera equipment and working at the Post. There are at least 20 outstanding images of African Americans. A 56 shot series of industrial photos showing construction on the Baytown tunnel include a number depicting African American laborers. There's also an eight shot series of the then-segregated 1949 Yates High School championship basketball team. Other images include the crowning of the queen of the National Secretaries Convention held at the Shamrock hotel in 1951 as well as a series showing Texas author Jewel Gibson in her home, including writing at a typewriter. There are several exceptional Houston street scenes, a six shot series of the groundbreaking ceremony for the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, a number of internal views of Massey's business college and a 23 shot series of a motor boat race. A very small portion appear to be family photos. The ephemera includes Valenta's bank statements and bills, Houston Post photographer assignment sheets, and a sheet with pencil caricatures of Post employees. Outstanding images by a fearless female photojournalist accompanied by a narrative describing the most historically important day of her career. This item is offered by Langdon Manor Books, LLC, antiquarian booksellers. 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