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Photographer Shot Brave New World of the Late 1800s


When John Calvin Brewster blew into town in 1874, Ventura's population was 600 souls, and photography was a brave new medium.

Like other early photographers, Brewster no doubt felt himself on the cutting edge, leading him to make such brash statements in ads for his portrait studio as, "It is the only means by which youth and beauty can be truthfully preserved."

In an exhibition of Brewster's work at the Ventura County Museum of Art and History, the youth and beauty preserved are that of the county itself. Born in Ohio, Brewster set up shop here and kept his well-trained eye focused on the changing texture of local life until his death in 1909.

A shot of his studio, nestled up next to San Buenaventura Mission, gives a strong sense of how rooted he was in the community.


The show, curated by Tim Schiffer, contains a broad range of images. There are examples of the portraits that paid Brewster's bills, slices of life on the dirt-lined Main streets of Ventura and Nordhoff (pre-Ojai), and images of local whistle-stops by Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Teddy Roosevelt.

"Ventura From the Hill" shows a lazy, sparse town spilling down to the sea, while Santa Paula, photographed in 1885, appears as a tiny, bucolic smattering of buildings on a yawning expanse of land.

A pristine portrait of Soo Hoo Chongti finds two exquisitely dressed Chinese women formally posing. In contrast, Madame Thacher, of Ojai's Thacher School, is moodily depicted in a darkened study.

It all adds up to an invaluable document through one man's viewfinder, a rear-view window on life in the county--long before the freeway.


* WHAT: Photos by John Calvin Brewster.

* WHERE: Ventura County Museum of History and Art, 100 E. Main St., Ventura.

* WHEN: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through Sunday.

* HOW MUCH: $3, children and members free.

* CALL: 653-0323.

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