Milanich headshot for PRAn Interview with 

Jerald T. Milanich 

co-author of

Enchantments: Julian Dimock’s Photographs of Southwest Florida

“[Dimock and his father] apparently first came to Florida to experience life in what was viewed as an “exotic,” still “untamed” setting… there they discovered what to them was a new world.’” – Jerald T. Milanich

 

JERALD T. MILANICH is curator emeritus of the Florida Museum of Natural History, contributing editor at Archaeology magazine, and the author or editor of many books.

University Press of Florida (UPF): When did you know that you wanted to write this book? What led you to this subject?

Jerald T. Milanich (JM): Nina Root introduced me to the Dimock images—glass negatives—curated at the American Museum of Natural History’s Research Library. Over several years she and I scanned the 200 or so glass negatives depicting Seminole Indians, all the while being aware that there were some 1800 negatives showing other people and places in southwest Florida (and animals in their natural settings). We realized that the images were a treasure trove of information about Florida and once the Seminole book was done (Hidden Seminoles), we started working with the other negatives.

Milanich enchantment cover

UPF: How is your day structured when you write? What’s your writing routine?

JM: I usually begin writing in the mid-morning, knock off for lunch, resume in the afternoon, and then quit in the evening. After dinner I love to “revisit” what I wrote that day to revise it and plan my next day’s work. Writing is a fulltime job and I think the best way to do it is to devote relatively long spans of time (several hours at a stretch). When you write, write. And when you don’t, don’t.

When it comes to long-term projects, I’m one of the world’s most unstructured working writers. I’m so skilled in procrastination that I’ve done taxes to avoid writing.  But that’s no way to complete a book, and I’d sooner stand on my head for 10 years than fail to complete a committed project.  With this my first book, I evolved to a state of time management just slightly better than a slug’s.

UPF: Did you know about Julian Dimock before you first saw his photographs? Tell us how you learned about them, and the man behind them.

JM: Before Nina Root introduced me to Julian Dimock I had never heard of him. As our research went forward, I began uncovering the many magazine articles (and the several books) that he and/or his father wrote. Newspaper accounts, especially the NY Times, added information about the father and son’s exploits in the financial world before they took up documenting southwest Florida and promoting conservation as a “fulltime” activity.

The three Olds daughters drinking from coconuts on the Marco beach. June 6, 1907; 49490. Courtesy of American Museum of Natural History
The three Olds daughters drinking from coconuts on the Marco beach. June 6, 1907; 49490. Courtesy of American Museum of Natural History

UPF: Which photograph in Enchantments is your favorite? Why? 

JM: I love the one on the cover of the book showing the three Olds daughters. Their parents moved to Marco Island when the girls were young and they grew up there while being home-schooled. It must have been an extraordinary setting, living on the edge of the southern end of the United States frontier. Even so, a number of “outsiders,” people like the Dimocks, brought a whiff of what life in the “outside” world was like. I think about the lives of my own two grandsons—ages 11 and 7 who live in New York City, and those of the Olds girls who lived a century earlier on Marco Island. Different, yes, but they all enjoyed playing on the beach.

UPF: How did Julian Dimock and his father, both New York financiers, end up in Florida?

JM: Dimocks had traveled widely throughout the US, first as hunters, then as photographers. Like other people from the Northeast, they apparently first came to Florida to experience life in what was viewed as an “exotic,” still “untamed” setting. It appears that on an early trip, perhaps even in the 1880s, they went tarpon fishing near Homosassa Springs. Later they traveled to Marco Island and southwest Florida, another hot spot for tarpon. There they discovered what to them was a new world. Over a decade they returned to the area numerous times.

UPF: Briefly describe what a visitor to southwest Florida would have encountered in the early 1900s.

JM: Julian once wrote that the “last bastion of civilization” on the Gulf coast of Florida was Sarasota, where one could even buy a newspaper! Apparently he didn’t think much of Fort Myers. Marco Island was on the cusp of the frontier and Storter’s store at Everglades City at the north end of the Ten Thousand Islands, was the last vestige of the frontier. The Ten Thousand Islands were home to some people like Mr. Watson (of Killing Mr. Watson infamy) who choose to live largely outside the realm of settled, law-abiding citizens. Life along the coast was dependent on boats, though oxen or mule-drawn wagons were used on the mainland. One trading post in the western Everglades (Brown’s boat landing) where a handful of Anglos lived, received mail by “pony express” from Fort Myers. When the 1910 federal census was taken some rural areas were canvassed twice, since no one really knew what county they were in.

UPF: Southwest Florida was essentially an untamed frontier at the time Julian Dimock was taking photos. What physical/technical challenges would he have faced shooting these images?

 JM: At the time there was, of course, no electricity and no cars (at least in southwest Florida), but lots of mosquitoes and water moccasins. Julian suffered greatly when working in his very hot dark room aboard the Irene, the houseboat he and his father used to traverse the Gulf coast. All his gear—cameras, tripods, heavy glass negatives, chemicals, etc.—had to be lugged around, no easy task if you were traveling in a canoe. When he spent a week photographing the birds in a rookery in the Ten Thousand Islands (while sleeping on the roof of the Irene) he made stilts to walk through the water and place him high enough to photograph birds in their nests. The birds must have endeared themselves to Julian: he became an international spokesperson for saving the birds from the predation of commercial plume hunters.

UPF: Did Julian Dimock’s style or subject focus influence photographers who came after him?

JM: I haven’t really researched that—I am no photography expert—but he did write a book that was published in 1912 (Outdoor Photography) that went through several editions and can still be read today on-line.

UPF: What do you hope readers will enjoy the most about your book?

JM: Enjoying Julian Dimock’s photographs of people and the natural setting of southwest Florida. I also hope they will like the historical vignettes taken from the magazine articles that Julian and his father wrote.

UPF: What are you currently reading?
JM: Do you mean “fun” reading? I just finished Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey and am nearly through another of Donna Leon’s novels about Venice (Italy)-based police commissioner Guido Brunetti (About Face); next up on my kindle is Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, by Timothy Egan.

UPF: Who are your favorite authors, and how have they influenced or informed your own work?

JM: Generally, my favorite author is whoever wrote the book I’m reading at the time. I do love Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, and Jorge Amado (a Brazilian novelist). All have a quirkiness to their books and stories that I enjoy.

 UPF: What are you working on next?

 JM: I am doing research on the ethnographic authenticity of Theodore de Bry’s iconic engravings of Timucua Indians and the 1562-1565 French attempts to establish two colonies in what today are South Carolina and northeast Florida. I contend that the images are based not on paintings by Jacque le Moyne, who was a member of the Florida expedition, but were simply made-up by de Bry who based them on previously published images and/or on written accounts by colonists. None of the engravings are based on paintings or drawings done from life.

UPF: Do you have one sentence of advice for new authors?

JM: Read, read, read; write, write, write; writing is a fulltime job.

UPF: Why is an archaeologist writing books about early 20th century photographs?

JM: I was a curator of Florida archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History for three decades and I wrote a lot of books and articles about Florida Indians as well as their interactions with Europeans in the colonial period. I also edited more than 60 books in University Press of Florida series for which I was general editor. Once I was out of academia I thought it time to have some fun and do book projects that were different from what I had been doing : things that I enjoyed. (A new generation has already taken over for me in Florida archaeology.) I also wanted to write popular—not academic—books. So far, I have had a great time chasing down a New York Sun newspaperman (Amos Jay Cummings) who was in Florida and wrote a host of interesting stories (Frolicking Bears, Wet Vultures, And Other Oddities: A New York City Journalist in Nineteenth-Century Florida) and now I’m following Julian Dimock and his father on their literary and photographic adventures around south Florida. It beats having a real job.

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