The 1936 Mexican Snapshot Mystery

I love a mystery.  After I helped with an estate sale a few doors from where I live in Santa Paula I was given a box of old snapshots that were left over.  The daughter told me the snapshots were taken on a trip to Mexico in 1936 by her grandfather, Garfield Merner.  At that estate sale I also a obtained a book on the history of the Merner family and one book about that trip titled “Mexico – Notes in the Margin” by Bess Adams Garner.  Then I put them away for more than ten years.

In late 2015 I heard about the Getty’s new initiative called “LA/LA: A Celebration Beyond Borders”, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.  That event will occur between September 2017 and January 2018 and there will be lots of exhibits exploring this subject matter.  I couldn’t wait that long so I  approached the Santa Paula Art Museum with the idea to exhibit some of the snapshots in that archive of photos of Mexico.  The answer was yes and the detective work began.

The research has taken over one year to assemble and there is much more to learn.  We found that the snapshot archive contained not only photos by Garfield Merner but also many by a photographer then only known as Kenneth Forbes.  Co-curator Eliza Graumlich tracked down Ken Forbes’ daughter, a 94 year old woman living in a rest home in Claremont.  That detective work led to finding his obituary and learning that he was a major citrus rancher in the Claremont area as well as a stage manager for the Padua Hills Playhouse and a photo-finish photographer at Santa Anita Racetrack.  Through diligent research, detective work, chance and good luck we are now able to exhibit the results of their and our labor.  Hopefully more and more facts will come to light about not only what Mexico and California were like in 1936 but also how our past shapes our present and informs our future.

John Nichols

For more information visit the Santa Paula Art Museum:

f005Photo by Kenneth Forbes


f013Photo by Kenneth Forbes

f028Photo by Kenneth Forbes

f045Photo by Kenneth Forbes

f058Photo by Kenneth Forbes


Photo by Garfield Merner


Photo by R. E. G.


Photo by Garfield Merner


Photo by Garfield Merner


Photo by Garfield Merner


Photo by Garfield Merner


About John

John Nichols is owner of John Nichols Gallery in downtown Santa Paula, Calif. Since 1984. Vintage, vernacular and contemporary photography and art services
This entry was posted in Museums, Photography, Vernacular Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The 1936 Mexican Snapshot Mystery

  1. Fantastic photos, aren’t they? So wonderful this has led to an exhibition!

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