In a career spanning forty-six years, Jack E. Boucher traveled through forty-nine states and two U.S. territories to photograph for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and its sister projects, the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) and Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS). Boucher passed away recently, so I asked colleagues here to share stories and images that reflect his legacy:
“For me this image by Jack Boucher has it all. Its composition eloquently captures the tension inherent in the changing scale and character of American cities, here Atlantic City, New Jersey. The looming presence of new casino construction frames a perfectly lit remnant of the past, its dignity and human qualities preserved forever. A lipstick-colored sports car adds just the right note, signifying both defiance and survival in the face of adversity.”
-C. Ford Peatross, Director, Center for Architecture, Design & Engineering
“Jack Boucher could entrance with his photos as well as explain.
As you study this seemingly simple shot of the interior of a Shaker barn, you realize Boucher’s genius for explanation. His shot of this attic reveals multiple sources of light. The entire space takes on a glow, and your eye travels to pick up the various elements that make up the barn. Light falls on the wooden floor. It reveals the presence of the low stone walls. Most of all, it illuminates the massive, hand-hewn rafters and roof trusses. In the end, you find yourself appreciating the way Boucher has captured the barn in bright light, while at the same time you are learning a great deal about Shaker construction.”
-Marilyn Ibach, Reference Specialist – Architecture
“I took an architectural photography class taught by Jack Boucher. He described to us the roadtrips he used to take, photographing historic buildings for HABS. In addition to all sorts of supplies, he recommended taking a hatchet on photography expeditions. This was not for protection from suspicious and irate property owners. After setting up a shot, he would use it to hack off a branch, which he recommended holding in the frame to tone down the sky and enhance the composition. Sometimes existing landscaping is insufficient!”
-Greg Marcangelo, Cataloging Specialist
“I always loved the survey of the Statue of Freedom on the Capitol Dome taken in 1993. This was done when the statue was taken down for restoration. I was a kid living in the area at that time and remember that everyone came to the Capitol grounds to see the statue up close. I especially love how Jack captured the process, especially the shot of the helicopter removing the statue from the top of the dome, to putting the statue in a weird context, on the east front on the Capitol grounds, and the details that no one had seen up close since the Civil War.”
-Mary Christ, Processing Technician
“I remember how these images of Bathhouses in Hot Springs, Arkansas captured for me a bygone era – the beauty of the buildings as well as the experience of a pampering resort that flourished in the first half of the 20th century in Hot Springs – and the reality of how moments in time can be just that – unsustained moments in time. Jack did that so well: capturing what it was that made a particular structure historic and worth documentation. He always did a good job of ‘Here’s the building’ – but he also was able to document particular angles and details that reflected its essence.”
-Kit Arrington, Digital Library Specialist
Boucher himself said it best in a 1995 interview with The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C.: “My whole philosophy is, I regard the building I’m doing as the most important one in my life, even if it’s a single-seat log outhouse.” Words to live by—and to be remembered for.
- Explore HABS/HAER/HALS in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Search for your hometown or home county, the one your parents grew up in, and so on, to see documented historic structures. Try a simple keyword search for Jack Boucher to explore his thousands of photographs.
- Discover more about Jack Boucher and his career in Remembering Jack Boucher, Photographer and Preservationist from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- Read Jack Boucher’s autobiography A Record in Detail: The Architectural Photographs of Jack E. Boucher (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988).