Friday, June 23, 2017

Wilbur H. Durborough and the Mexican Revolution (1913-1914)

When in 1913 the Mexican Revolution hit the headlines many cameramen from the United States flocked to the country. To satisfy America's public demand for coverage the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) sent Wilbur H. Durborough to join Pancho Villa's army. As described in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, Durborough became quite friendly with Villa and obtained some excellent pictures of Villa's troops.



W.H. Durborough (second from right) and Arthur Ruhl (second from left) in Mexico, 1914


Mexico's first superstar

Villa became Mexico's first superstar when in 1914 he signed a movie contract with Mutual, agreeing to keep other film companies from the battlefield and to fight in daylight wherever possible. Despite all exclusive provisions this did not deter other film companies such as Pathé and Universal to try to cover Villa's army. The list of newsreel men, photographers and cinematographers who crossed the Rio Grande and entered Mexico at this period is long and impressive. In fact, the Mexican Revolution turned out to be a training ground for many cameramen who soon afterwards went to Europe to film the Great War.

Despite excellent research on this subject, notably by Mexican film historian Margarita de Orellana, some tantalizing new pieces of information on this remarkable episode in film history are still being discovered. Recently we found a photograph on eBay which has an NEA stamp on the backside and is dated July 16, 1914. The caption says: "Durborough in Mexico". The picture shows Durborough holding his Graflex camera, together with three men looking at what appears to be a corpse.

We haven't been able so far to identify the other men, except for Arthur Ruhl who was a reporter for Colliers and the New York Tribune. Ruhl was with Durborough when the U.S. Marines landed at Vera Cruz and attacked the waterworks at El Tejar. The picture may have been taken at this occasion.

Durborough had been with Pancho Villa before the U.S. Marines attacked Vera Cruz and he had covered similar scenes before. In December 1913, he photographed the Battle of La Mesa when Villa's men fought the Federalist Army. After the battle he photographed this burying party:




Burying the dead on the battlefield of La Mesa. Photograph by Wilbur H. Durborough, copied from the Evansville Press, 3 December 1913




We recently prepared a new, extended story on Durborough's photographic work during World War I. You can read this Durborough Film Annotation (2nd edition) here.






Photo-journalist Otis Aultman

When Durborough first went to Mexico he also had his picture taken together with Pancho Villa. Mexican historian Luis Arturo Salmeron recently posted this photograph on his Twitter account. The photograph was taken by Otis A. Aultman, another interesting figure who had gone to Mexico at the time. 



Left: Otis Aultman behind his movie camera in Mexico. Right: Wilbur H. Durborough and Pancho Villa at Tierra Blanca, 1913


Aultman was born in 1874, in Holden, Missouri. As a young man he learned photography from his older brother. In 1908, after a divorce from his wife, he moved to El Paso. There he first worked for Scott Photo Company and later started his own firm. Aultman was a man in the right place at the right time. He photographed the battle of Casas Grandes, the first battle of Juárez in May 1911, and the Orozco rebellion in 1912. He was a favorite of Pancho Villa, who called Aultman "Banty Rooster" because he was only 5'4" tall. Aultman worked for the International News Service and Pathé News and experimented with cinematography. In 1916 he appears to have been one of the first photographers to arrive at Columbus, New Mexico, after the famous raid on that town by the Villistas.



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