Schenectady native recalled for photography, adventurous spirit
SCHENECTADY Schenectady’s Mary Trumbull Collier and her husband John made a great team.
John Collier Jr. was best known for promoting the use of photography in anthropology. Both Colliers worked as photographers in Latin America in 1945 and 1946. Photo shoots in Canada, Peru and the Southwest were still ahead.
Mary Collier died Feb. 23 in Taos, N.M., at age 94. Her interment service was held March 29 in Talpa, N.M.
Collier’s brother-in-law, Edward N. Gifford of Rotterdam, on Thursday remembered Mary’s love for travel and photography — and her adventurous spirit. “Her older brother Ralph in Schenectady was a very popular children’s photographer,” Gifford said. “Mary worked with Ralph enough to get some skills in photography.”
Collier graduated from the former Nott Terrace High School in 1936 and was class valedictorian. As a young woman, she studied cello and per-
formed in a string quartet. To protect callouses on her fingers — necessary to
play the heavy strings — Mary received a pass on family dish washing chores. Her youngest sister Nancy was dealt the soapy hands.
“I dried,” said Gifford, who was then Nancy’s boyfriend and later became her husband.
Collier graduated from Vassar College and later found work in Greenbelt, Md. While in Greenbelt in 1942, she met John Collier of Taos, then a photographer working out of Washington, D.C., for the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Administration. They married in May 1943.
While in Ecuador in the mid-1940s, the couple collaborated with Ecuadorian anthropologist Anibal Buitron to produce a photographic and textual ethnographic study of the Indian weaving communities of Otavalo. The work sparked a book, “The Awakening Valley.”
In 1954, John and Mary were in Peru, where they documented a major community development project at the Hacienda Vicos in the Callejon de Huaylas.
Gifford said the couple developed a technique called visual anthropology, which he said is now part of some college curriculums.
“It’s the ability to go into a community and, without disrupting the people there, learn what they’re doing,” Gifford said. “If you’re intrusive, then you don’t get the same results as if you’re not. They lived there. And when Mary and her kids would come here from New Mexico or California, they would bring tents. They wouldn’t stay in the house, they wouldn’t stay in motels. They would camp out at our place in tents … it was their style.”
Later in life, Collier photographed neighbors, weddings and other events in the Talpa and Taos areas. The couple also lived in the San Francisco Bay area — and Mary’s other interests included teaching college, ethnobotany and politics.
John Collier died Feb. 25, 1992, in Costa Rica.
“After he died,” Gifford said, “Mary spent an enormous amount of time going to the various places, including Cornell University in Ithaca, to the archives in New Mexico and several other places, in order to have his negatives and photographs be put someplace where they could be used — not just in boxes at her house.”
Mary Collier is survived by four sons, Malcolm, Robin, Vian and Aran; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.