Thursday, June 2, 2011

Monrovia: Waterside, c.1910

Another new addition to the M2M archive: perhaps the oldest photograph of Monrovia that I have come across, written in a scrawling French and posted to Barcelona sometime before the Titanic ever set sail.

The photo is a close-in detail of a scrappy-looking Waterside, unmistakable by its steep incline, simple, dirt paths worn by human feet. The cluster of buildings, not at all insubstantial, give the scene the classic maritime look that could be mistaken for a New England fishing port. The larger brick structure at right, with a group of official-looking white-suited, pith-helmeted men on its porch, peering down to the dark figures in the yard, was likely the trading office of a Dutch, German or Belgian merchant.

Just beyond the yard, and a row of low shacks, is the water. Between the structures can clearly be seen the unmistakable profile of Providence Island, decades before it was accessible by bridge. The very top of a stately cotton tree can be seen over the roofline at left. The mighty Mesurado seems to be powerfully rushing in from the ocean, the surface in the lee of the island looks less disturbed. No vessels, under sail or paddle, can be seen.

Far beyond, on the distant shore, are a surprisingly dense collection of thatch and even whitewashed structures. Its confusing to understand this perspective, and might even suggest that the original plate was developed backwards, for there have never been structures on this saturated swamp. More logically, this is Vai Town and Bushrod Island, and the printer, not familiar with the geography of the capital, inadvertently inversed the image.

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