Jack Boucher, longtime architectural photographer for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), died last week. Established in the midst of the Great Depression, as a way to put architects and photographers to work documenting the nation’s most historic and architecturally significant buildings, HABS has more recently made its treasure trove of photos available online. Jack Boucher took many of these photos over the years, including most of Mississippi’s historic landmarks.
Here was Boucher’s obituary from a posting on a National Park Service Facebook page:
PASSING OF A LEGENDARY HABS PHOTOGRAPHER:
Jack E. Boucher, the photographer for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) for over forty-six years before his retirement in 2009 died Sunday, September 2 in Silver Spring, Maryland, due to complications resulting from a heart ailment. Born September 4, 1931 in Buffalo, New York, Jack grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His professional career began with the Atlantic City Tribune, and with the State of New Jersey, photographing sites along the newly created Garden State Parkway. Jack came to National Park Service in 1958, originally working for both the Branch of Still & Motion Pictures and HABS, which was then part of the Eastern Office of Design and Construction, in Philadelphia. He left in 1966 to become Chief of Historic Sites for the state of New Jersey, returning to HABS in 1971. Jack took photographs for HABS (and HAER and HALS) in forty-nine states, and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and has likely contributed more to the HABS photographic collection at the Library of Congress than any other single individual. His work was the subject of a book entitled, A Record in Detail, The Architectural Photography of Jack E. Boucher, published by the University of Missouri Press, and has been featured in other publications, such as Landmarks of Prince Georges County, Maryland. In addition, Jack’s images for HABS appear routinely in professional journals and magazines, and are frequently used by scholars to illustrate books and articles on America’s architectural history. In 1985, he received the Meritorious Service Award, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a federal employee.
Below is a small sampling of Jack Boucher’s Mississippi photos. As you can see, he documented the high and the low of architecture, from the finest craftsmanship to the slave quarters to the privies. Through his photos, we can still experience in just a small way some of the landmarks that are now gone, including Assembly Hall, where Mississippi’s territorial legislature met. We can also see the changes over time, such as the Old Capitol’s exposed brick period, or the Governor’s Mansion’s W.S. Hull period, including Hull’s interesting grand staircase, removed during the 1972 renovation. To me, the most valuable aspect of the HABS photos is how they allow us all to peek inside buildings that we may never actually get to see, examining mantels, stairs, trim details, among other things. These photos are an invaluable primer into architecture, craftsmanship, and the broader historic landscapes that have mostly disappeared. Boucher’s work has aided the cause of preservation and will continue to do so, and HABS should be proud to have had such a passionate photographer out there documenting the nation’s landmarks for so long.
You can find all 600+ Mississippi photos by Jack Boucher at the HABS website, and for more about Jack Boucher, see the National Trust blog.
Categories: Architectural Research
Eloquent and beautiful tribute to the passing of this great man. May he rest in peace.
This is an eloquent and beautiful tribute “to the passing” of Mr Boucher. One reason why the notice Malvaney has posted is so moving is encapsulated in that phrase “to the passing”. We talk of preservation, but in many ways preservation is a concept necessary to understand the unavoidable human condition of change and flux, including the arrival of the new and the loss of the old and familiar. As detailed in the remarks, Mr. Boucher recorded structures that are gone and parts of structures latterly added as well as lately removed, as well as structures “preserved” in humanity’s endless effort to foil time. This is in that way a tribute to us all, although special to Mr. Boucher; I suspect he would understand, given his clear sympathy with us all.
We can all learn from Jack. His work was also poetry.
Jack Boucher’s lifetime of dedication to the documentation of our national treasures is a great legacy – and inspiration – for us all.