People

Susie Keef Smith + Lula Mae Graves

Talk about fearless. With a six shooter and bags stuffed with cameras, cousins Susie Keef Smith (born 1900) and Lula Mae Graves (born 1908) set off into the California desert to take postcard photographs. Sometimes they rode in their Model T Ford. Other times, they’d hunt for shots by burro or on foot. Along the way, they befriended cowboys, gold-seekers, drillers, muckers, blasters.

The cousins had to work around flash floods, rattle snakes, scorpions, scorching desert heat. Graves had ‘bad lungs.’ Smith had a right leg braced and scarred after childhood polio and multiple operations. But, together they amassed the largest known photographic survey of the area – from Mecca to Blythe, under the shadow of the Chocolate, Eagle and Orocopia mountains.

When Smith died in 1988, a public administrator tossed her life’s work into the dumpster. Thank goodness for Ron May, a neighbouring archeologist, who dove in to save this most rich collection of photos.

Here are some examples of their work from La Quinta Museum’s Postcards from Mecca. The California Desert Photographs of Susie Keef Smith and Lula Mae Graves. 1916-1936.

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