Stanton Repeat Photography

In May 1889, railroad engineer Robert Brewster Stanton, in collaboration with real estate investor Frank M. Brown, began a survey of the Green and Colorado River corridors. Their goal was to construct a railroad line from Grand Junction, Colorado to San Diego, California, one that would wind at river-level through several of the Colorado River’s canyons. While that expedition ended in disaster in July after three men, one of them Brown, drowned in Grand Canyon, Stanton successfully completed the survey that winter (1889-1890).

The expedition quickly discovered that conducting the survey by instrument was far too time-consuming for their allotted time, so the men turned to line-of-site photographs taken on newfangled flexible roll film (rather than the cumbersome glass plates used by their predecessors). Although the railroad project never got past the planning stages, the photographs would prove to be invaluable as the basis for repeat photography a century later.

From 1989 to 1995, nearly all of the images that the expedition’s photographers, Franklin A. Nims and, after Nims was injured and left the expedition, Stanton himself, took in both Grand and Cataract Canyons were re-photographed. The photographs reveal changes in desert and riparian vegetation, rapids, and beaches, as a result of both natural and human-caused processes.

Many of the Grand Canyon images were published in Grand Canyon, A Century of Change, and a selection of the Cataract Canyon images appeared in Cataract Canyon: A Human and Environmental History of the Rivers in Canyonlands. In 2010,  re-matching many of these images began, both in Grand Canyon and Cataract Canyon.

Please navigate to the link below for the full report compilation (pdf, 14.9 MB):

Stanton Repeat Photography Compilation

Also available in the link below is a transcript of an interview of Robert Webb from the USGS Old-Timers’ Collection (pdf, 36 kB):

Robert Webb – USGS Old Timers Interview Transcript

This compilation consists of work deemed to be in the public domain or U.S. Government work. YCWUA claims no ownership nor copyright of the material herein. The majority of the content used in this compilation was sourced from USGS at


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