Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘history’
“In photography, as everywhere, there are those who know how to see and others who don’t even know how to look . . .” – Felix Nadar
Part artist and part PT Barnum, Felix Nadar was one of history’s early famous photographers. Born in 1820, he photographed everybody who was anybody in Paris at the time: Manet, Hugo, Baudelaire, Dumas. These photographic portraits were his art, but he was also a bungling balloonist, the first aerial photographer, the first to deliver airmail, a cartoonist, a writer, and a poster boy for the description of a “bohemian.” In The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera (2017 Tim Duggan Books), author Adam Begley captures in just under 200 pages the photographer’s energy, eccentricities, and the spirit of his life.
Nadar took his first look through the lens of a camera in 1848—and he was hooked. That year there were only 13 professional photographers in Paris, and by 1868 there were 350. Photography’s first boom was termed “photomania.” The author writes: “They engaged in mysterious hocus-pocus and sometimes peddled shoddy, blurred images for which they overcharged,” so things haven’t changed much in the past 150 years. Nadar was ahead of the game. Having been a portrait artist for numerous newspapers, photography came easily to him. He also had a wealth of contacts, and he knew the celebrity culture. More importantly, he was a wonderful photographer.
Supported by his wife, Nadar sprinted into his new profession—not always with complete success. A lack of business acumen kept Nadar continually in debt, so he constantly chased the “next big thing.” (After photography, that thing was ballooning.)
In the book’s later chapters author Begley truly captures the adventurous spirit of Nadar. He took his debt, impulsiveness, and devil-may-care attitude right into the field of ballooning. Important advances were being made in the area of flight at that time, and ballooning was an exciting new novelty. Nadar didn’t have the money for this new sport, but that wasn’t about to stop him. He would take friends and family out for balloon adventures, even though he didn’t have the landing part down quite yet. If guests ended up bloody or with broken limbs then so be it.
Attempting to marry his two passions, Nadar began to experiment with aerial photography, using his big box camera and learning through trial and error. Later when the Bavarian armies besieged Paris, this photographer hero would fly over them and report back troop movements; or fly away and deliver intelligence reports and mail via the air.
If only every photographer’s life could be as interesting and exciting as that of Felix Nadar. He was part Evil Knievel and part Andy Warhol, but he is mostly remembered through his fantastic photography. Exhibitions of his work have been held in recent years at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (The book includes numerous images, drawings, and more.)
I highly recommend this book about Nadar, as an addition to your photographic library, and as an intriguing read into life of one of photography’s true pioneering heroes.
It’s been hard for me to fully express exactly what impact I am feeling from the Eagle Creek Fire. Those that haven’t experienced the Columbia River Gorge or don’t know it as their backyard like I do may think it’s simply another forest falling victim to the flame. For those that know it like I do, it’s a crown jewel of Oregon. Considering I am not that religious in a traditional sense I say going to nature is my temple; with the gorge being the temple I have spent the most time in.
Certainly, there are much larger catastrophes in recent memory in the states let alone across the globe. Even a storm like Hurricane Harvey that resulted in thousands of homes and business being flooded and loss of life is severe and unfortunate. Now we have Irma. My heart goes to all those impacted. Even in the Gorge there have been changes impacting lives generations before us. Simply look at how the Columbia River changed by building the dams and the impact that had the Native American tribes. We are not the only ones that have ever been impacted by significant changes in the gorge both human and nature caused.
When I first heard of the fire I felt myself starting the rolling coaster of emotions like you would go through for any grieving process. In this case hearing how it started it was anger. Then I moved to shock, then to sadness knowing the fire was growing and going through all these places I planted my feet many times. Places I have enjoyed with good friends, with family or solo for alone time. I even lost sleep a couple nights thinking about it. Again you may not understand but let me tell you a little more.
2017 Eagle Creek Fire – Photo Credit: Chris Liedle
I grew up in the “Gateway to the Gorge” on multiple acres and a creek where I would play outside for hours at a time before the days of many parents worrying about too much screen time and the need to force kids outdoors. This area has been a part of my life for decades. I am convinced it’s what helped put the yearning for nature in my blood at an early age resulting in countless days taking hikes, capturing photos and simply exploring throughout my life.
I have stood in ice cold flowing water with the snow line above my head until my feet went numb and loved every minute of it. I have hiked in the pouring rain with no one around, wondering how much it needs to rain before a tree falls to then see a tree fall. I have hiked to highest point to see the view and almost got lost coming down. I have chased the light up many gorge trails and then back down. I have driven the old scenic highway with half a foot of fresh snow and not a single vehicle track except my own. I have endured the strong East winds that funnel down the gorge like a freight train getting pelleted by ice, snow and rain. I have visited busy scenic areas thick with crowds to off trail locations rarely seen where the only sound is nature itself.
Taken underneath Pony Tail falls looking out into the lush greenery. Many years back a small group of us were photographing along the stream that you see in this scene. One of them, Phill Monson, found a semi buried old wooden sign that said Pony Tail falls. It had fallen from unknown causes from the tree it was attached to and broke apart yet you could still see the name Pony Tail. I have it on my desk to this day.
We are all saddened because we know it’s special to live close to an area like this. An area filled with lush plant life, refreshingly crisp water and magnificently rugged terrain. It’s a place where all walks of life come to escape hectic schedules, connect with nature or simply to reflect. I have come to the Gorge many times where I was reminded that I had too much desk time since my last visit and I walk away rejuvenated to tackle what life brings at me next. The beauty can leave you awe struck on your first visit. I have seen it firsthand. It’s National Park worthy if I can be so bold. It’s a treasured place to be protected.
It’s frustrating to us all how the Eagle Creek fire started and no doubt we would all feel a little bit differently had it started due to natural causes. Instead it was a group of teenagers lighting fireworks in a precipitation starved forest without a single care as to what might happen. We will need to let the law enforcement aspect take it’s course yet I do know it’s not much good spewing out hate towards those that did this as I have seen online. We are better off channeling that energy to do something positive. We all have been or will be a teenager. As a teenager we all had at least one experience (or a few) which, after the fact, we realize was stupid and could have been much worse, where we thankfully learned our lesson with little to no consequence. Unfortunately in this case the consequences were to a level most of us could not fathom. If those that are responsible for the fire are reading this I would tell them to continuously look for ways to spend time volunteering to give back to nature and serve local communities. This will help you move forward yet never forget it.
This was a very memorable day from quite a few years back. Myself, Zack Schnepf, Jeremy Cram and Marc Adamus spent pretty much all of daylight exploring off trail. It was slow going try to go the path of least resistance while minimize impact to our surroundings. Finally after hours we came across this scene. Well worth the adventure.
Like many, I am sadden about the changes that took place to our shrine, The Gorge. It doesn’t come without heartache yet it’s certainly not the end and I have to look at it as a new beginning. The photos seen to date show the gorge was not burnt completely to a crispy blackened wasteland like we might see on a sci-fi show after an apocalypse. Even the areas heavily damaged will come back to life in their own unique way with the eventual signature gorge green sprouting through the ashes. Yes, it will take time but nature always returns and sometimes in ways that amaze and surprise us. I am barely old enough to remember seeing Mount Saint Helens erupt. It’s been decades yet now it’s an impressive place to visit even though it’s different than it was before the eruption. The same will hold true for spots greatly impacted by this fire.
This should give you a general idea of what to expect in areas that are heavily damaged. This is in the vicinity of Angel’s Rest and was taken about 7 years ago which was about 20 years after this fire happen. I had visualized this photo on a prior hike without camera gear and bad light. I came back about a year later to make this along with a similar one in winter you can see here.
Those that know me know I tend to live my life with the glass half full as it’s too short to think otherwise. Even after my initial stages of disbelief and grief I am now moving on and look forward to the regeneration of our beloved gorge. I feel fortunate to be close enough to continue to have more experiences not only personally but for my wife and me to do the same with our young children who have only started to explore the many areas the Gorge has to offer, even if some of them will be different now.
As a side note, I have seen a number of comments online from individuals very eager to help the gorge come back to life again by taking on the task of figuring out what to do next. It’s great that many of us want to give back now more than ever. I would suggest that we leave the determination what needs to be done for damaged areas up to forest professionals and Mother Nature. We should look to donate our time, and or money if inclined, to organizations that support the gorge like Friends of The Columbia Gorge as one example.
Lastly, lest I forget to say thank you to the many firefighters, police and first responders that worked tirelessly, and continue to, on the Eagle Creek Fire to avoid losing lives, homes and historic structures as the fire is not yet contained as I write this. Your efforts are immensely appreciated.
This was one of those rainy days, that we frequently get between October and June. I stood here in the water with my feet and hands pretty close to numb while water was dripping off my head and camera. I probably should have protected my camera better yet it survived while I thrived.
I believe this was the first time I met Sean Bagshaw in person, before we started Photo Cascadia and became good friends. Myself, David and Sean were exploring Eagle Creek trail on this day. I remember thinking this scene was better with someone in it as it helped provide scale so I was glad he was “in the way” for this photo.
The gorge after fresh snowfall. Looks beautiful dressed in all white. This is not your iconic scene but hiking deeper into the gorge to find the more rugged and wild side. This is where peaceful scenes can be found in any season.
I found this wandering the forest near Larch Mountain on a day thick with fog and melting snow from the trees. Anytime a slight breeze would come I ended up doused with water from the branches as they ensured I didn’t leave the scene dry.
I was hiking I believe in the area of Triple Falls for the afternoon. I was taking my time coming down because the sky was pretty socked in and wasn’t planning to take a sunset photo. Somewhere I glanced a break up in the clouds that seemed to be increasing. I jogged the last 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile with heavy backpack to get to the car, drive here and take this photo before the light faded.
This was taken close to a decade ago. I crossed the bridge and almost thought about not taking a photo because I was nearing the end of my day of hiking and photography, telling myself “next time”. I am glad I took a few minutes to capture this. Since that year I have not seen this canyon devoid of large logs or trees. It’s above Oneonta Falls.
Photo and Text By: Sean Bagshaw
The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area has been the backdrop for many of my favorite outdoor photography experiences. I have found few other places on the planet as beautiful, mysterious, rugged and alive. Over the years I have hiked many of the canyons and creeks, alone, with my family and often with other photographers. I took this photo of Gorton Creek while exploring above Wyeth with several of my Photo Cascadia colleagues a few years ago. I remember it was a life affirming day. I think this small scene does a good job of sharing the essence and the magic of the entire area. I hope it recovers quickly.
Photo and Text By: Zack Schnepf
Here is one of my favorite locations in the Gorge. I think of Oneonta Gorge as Oregon’s green slot canyon. It’s another unique and special location to me. The lush green moss and ferns coat every surface and the steep walls rise up into a lush forest. I love how the trees grow right out of the steep walls. It truly is an incredible place to experience in person.
Grand Teton National Park is a photographer’s dream, and one place in particular draws photographers from all over the world: Mormon Row. It’s such a distinctly American vista: the craggy, dramatic Teton range looming majestically over a symbol of settlers’ dreams and tenacity in a harsh landscape. There’s such beauty in the simplicity, in the Moulton Barns in particular; the way the warm light hits the wooden beams, some vertical, some horizontal. I’ve wondered over my years of visiting the park about the history of the area, but I never knew much besides a vague idea.
Basically, the Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, said that people could migrate West and set up a homestead and get 160 acres of public land to own, free. In the 1890s, Mormon settlers from Salt Lake set up homesteads in what is now called Mormon Row. They named the village Grovont, after the Gros Ventre river (which is actually named for the Indian tribe, and means “big belly” in French). All in all, there were 27 homesteads, clustered close together, unlike most Western homesteads, which tended to be quite isolated. The closeness helped the people of Grovont share work duties and community. In addition to the ranches and homes, Grovont also had a schoolhouse and a church.
The land and the climate are harsh. The soil was sandy and rocky. Winters in the area are long and brutal, and farming season is relatively short. The people of Grovont dealt with these conditions by digging a network of ditches, to supply water to the community. Water still flows in some of these ditches.
Probably the most famous structure in Grovont still standing is the John Moulton barn. Pictured above, it stands near the more modern, arguably less attractive, pink stucco house that belonged to John and Bertha Moulton. The Moultons originally lived in a log cabin on the site, but replaced it with the distinctive pink house after living there for many years. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a pink house in the Tetons?
Nearby, John Moulton’s brother, T.A. Moulton, set up a homestead with his wife Lucille, and built a very similar barn. This barn looks a bit newer as it took T.A. Moulton over 30 years to build.
Several other barns and structures remain in the former village, which is basically a ghost town, if you think about it.
In the early 1900s, tourism in the Jackson Hole area began to take off, particularly “dude ranches.” Wealthy Easterners wanted to travel to the Tetons and have a taste of living the adventurous cowboy life. I had no idea that dude ranches were wildly popular in the 1910s and 1920s. But as tourism took off, so did people’s concerns about development and protecting the environment. Congress created Grand Teton National Park in 1929, much smaller than it is today. John D. Rockefeller Jr. in particular wanted to preserve the natural beauty of the area and began purchasing land, eventually buying 35,000 acres, which he donated to help expand Grand Teton National Park. Many former homesteads were donated or bought by the national park, some with agreements that the homesteaders or their descendents would continue to live there until their deaths. The former village of Grovont was acquired by the park in the mid-1900s, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
There are a number of reasons I’m drawn to photographing ghost towns. Perhaps it’s something to do for a change of pace, maybe it’s photographing the history of a bygone era, or possibly it’s my fascination with dystopian literature. But mostly it’s just fun. I’ve photographed ghost towns from Alaska to Mexico. Most of them exist from the boom-and-bust of the mining era, while others are from the days of Manifest Destiny gone awry; leftovers from a time when Americans thought if we moved to arid lands for cultivation then the rain would follow.
The ruins these people left behind are in different states of disrepair. Some are preserved as parks, some are not and are left to crumble, and others are resurrected as artist colonies for an affordable place to work and live. Whatever their state, there is always something to explore and photograph.
I’ve explored and photographed the well-known ghost towns (i.e. Bodie) to the little-known towns (i.e.) Farlin. Hell, I even did a ghost town long-distance walk across the Yukon and Northwest Territories on the 221 mile (355km) Canol Heritage Trail, and followed a World War II oil pipeline through the wilderness. The walk past little-used and abandoned autos, pump-house towns, and work stations was fascinating. Additionally, I walked the 33-mile (53km) Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia that follows a land of artifacts and relics from the Klondike Gold Rush. But you don’t need to walk long distances for most ghost towns; they’re on maps and a good AWD vehicle will get you to most of them. Just remember that the majority of ghost towns are at a higher elevation and not lowland valleys, so you might need to wait until summer for access.
Upon arriving for the first time, I like to get that establishing shot. Maybe it’s an overview of the entire town from a nearby highpoint, or possibly it’s a shot of one of the more prominent buildings in town like the mine itself. If the light is not right, I’ll come back to that establishing image as the light improves, but at least I’ve found what represents the town as a whole. Once I have the establishing shot, I begin to look for the intimate. Ghost towns are known for what’s left behind. It could be a table setting, an old poster still on the wall, or implements hanging from the ceiling, but I look for those things that might tell more of the story of the place I’m photographing.
Ghost towns usually have plenty of texture and plenty of rust that can create interesting patterns of shape and color. I look at the old boards for details of pattern and rusted old cars with peeling paint can offer a myriad of abstract compositions too. If artists are moving into the area, look for the weird. Near a Nevada ghost town I photographed, there was a whole field of cars planted in the ground grill first. The exposed sections of the autos were covered with graffiti art exploring life, politics, and the exotic.
Since this is a ghost town, also look for the creepy. I had one ghost town all to myself in the middle of Montana. I walked into an old abandoned hotel to look around and then heard something upstairs. When I walked upstairs I just saw a long hallway of light and dark, and thought to myself, “I’m not going down there.” But I did try to capture in a photo the way I felt at the time.
Also when you’re visiting a ghost town look for the cemetery; there is always one nearby. Some can be quaint, others historic, and still others a bit spooky. Any way you capture them, the images can be interesting and will also help tell the story of place. Ghost towns are also a great place for night photography, and light painting the old buildings while photographing the stars overhead can make for a fun evening shoot. If you’re photographing at night, use common sense and leave the steel wool at home. Sparks from these efforts can level a whole town, and enough historic relics from California to Florida have already been lost to photographer’s fire.
In 2017 I’ll be returning to Montana to conduct a photographic loop of the western ghost town locales. I hope you can join me. You can click here for more information.
There are many photographers who worry that exposure to photographs by others will contaminate the purity of their own creative vision, that they will never find their own voice if they are working under the influence, so to speak. Creativity involves choice, however. The late, great art historian Michael Baxandall famously demolished the idea that artists can ‘influence’ other artists in the true sense of that word. He rightly pointed out that the notion of influence describes the effect of an active power exerting itself on a passive subject, and that the nature of artistic intention actually runs the other way around. He offered up some alternative vocabulary that better explains the process of working in any medium, actual possibilities for what an artist can do in light of another’s work:
“Draw on, resort to, avail oneself of, appropriate from, engage with, react to, quote, differentiate oneself from, assimilate oneself to, assimilate, align oneself with, copy, address, paraphrase, absorb, make a variation on, revive, continue, remodel, resist, simplify, reconstitute, elaborate on, develop, face up to, master, subvert, perpetuate, reduce, promote, respond to, transform, tackle…—everyone will be able to think of others.” (Patterns of Intention, pg. 58)
It is important for photographers to keep in mind that they have all of these options and more for creating their own photographs after viewing other images. It is also important to acknowledge that no photographer exists in a vacuum. One of the great plagues of history is the idea of pure creative genius, that an artwork can spring fully formed out of the head of an artist without any external input. On the contrary, we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and even so-called “naive” artists absorb the visual solutions of whatever imagery they do encounter. Promoting the idea of purity in creativity is not only absurd but is also detrimental to the creative spirit in that it sets up a false premise. That premise posits that what ultimately matters is difference, the extent to which a photograph or a body of work can stand apart from everything that came before it. What really matters, however, is not difference but substance—not standing apart, but making a contribution. As I have written before, the pursuit of difference puts the emphasis on what to avoid rather than what to create, an emphasis that is ultimately counterproductive.
One of the most helpful ideas about viewing photographs that I have encountered is to consider how they might be “extending the conversation” established by photographs that came before them. How is a given photograph in dialogue with what preceded it, and what has it contributed to that conversation? As Brooks Jensen explains, the more that we view other photographs and get to know the history of photography, the better able we will be to appreciate “the subtleties of the currents that drift through the medium” (Looking at Images, pg. 102). That level of appreciation will serve any photographer far better than the impossible pursuit of visual ignorance—burying your head in the sand only cuts off an important avenue for personal development. If we think about existing photographs positively, as foundational elements for all that follows, then we will be more likely to process this visual input in creative ways. We don’t have to try to ‘un-see’ other photographs or fear how they might affect our own work if we embrace the idea that we can ‘own’ our responses to them.
So my answer to the question in the title of this article is a resounding “yes”. Explore and enjoy the images of other photographers! Even photographs that cause us to be overwhelmed with admiration can advance our progress as individuals by helping us to identify what moves and motivates us, which is ultimately a point of personal discovery. If we keep in mind that visual literacy will inform the work of a photographer, not ‘influence’ it, then we can remain focused on productive goals rather than getting hung up on being different. Viewing the works of others is one avenue that can lead in a positive direction as we respond to what we see. Ultimately, anything that can put you in touch with your own interests, reservations, emotions, and experiences is going to help to place your focus where it belongs: on you.
Do you find yourself conflicted by the idea of viewing the images of other photographers? Do you have any favorite strategies for responding to visual input? Please feel free to chime in on this important topic by leaving a comment below. Thanks for reading!
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
Book Review of Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher
by David Cobb
In early American photographic history there were a handful of giants, including Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, William Henry Jackson, and Edward Curtis. To improve and learn more about one’s own photography, I believe it’s important to learn about photographers who came before. So when I picked up a new book about Edward Curtis (1869-1962) I was eager to learn what it had to say.
Curtis’ life was a Horatio Alger story in a way, with more of a rags-to-riches-to- rags twist. He hobnobbed with the Seattle elite as a photographer of the rich and famous, he photographed the family of President Teddy Roosevelt, bargained with America’s richest man J.P. Morgan, and met and photographed the famous Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. But for his life-long work (a 20-volume set depicting the North American Indian) he was never paid a dime.
In Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, author Timothy Egan delivers an insightful biography of this great American photographer. The book covers Curtis’ early childhood on the plains of Minnesota, his years of back-breaking work along Seattle’s harbors, his time as Seattle’s famous society photographer, and his interest and obsession with photographing the vanishing American Indian. It was this latter project that brought him his fame, and also his financial woes.
The direction of his photographic career took shape on a climb up Washington’s Mount Rainier. While photographing glacial ice, Curtis befriended a group of men descending the mountain who were some of the leading scientists of the time. They were so impressed with Curtis’ knowledge and confidence they invited him to be expedition photographer on a trip to Alaska. Not only did Curtis earn the respect of his peers on this expedition he also made important contacts that would further his quest to photograph the endangered Native American. From there his career took shape and his legacy changed.
Curtis himself had little formal education, so support was hard to come by and his projects were met with skepticism, especially from institutions such as the Smithsonian. But Curtis’ knowledge of the lives and plight of the American Indian was vast. The real so-called experts of the time seldom strayed from their ivory towers; comparatively Curtis lived constantly in the field gathering hands-on knowledge. In one odd meeting in the book, a leading “expert” on Native Americans asked Curtis what it was like to meet a real Indian.
Today his 20-volume set is valued by collectors, with a collection recently selling for 1.4 million dollars. Curtis’ images continue to fetch high prices in galleries as well. Native Americans also value his photographs as a way to reconnect with their heritage, and his sound recordings are sometimes used as an aid in relearning their languages.
In this beautifully written and well-researched biography, Egan covers not only Curtis the photographer but also Curtis the human being—faults and all. He delves into the photographer’s friendships, financial woes, marital difficulties, and blame of the U.S. Government and Christian missionaries for the treatment of Native Americans. Using letters and diaries, Egan explores Curtis’ friendships with longtime friend Ed Meany (who always supported Curtis through thick and thin) and Alexander Upshaw (his Native American interpreter and right-hand man). Egan tracks Curtis’ upheavals in life through letters exchanged by Curtis and Meany, and details his frustrations with racism through his recorded observations of Upshaw’s difficulties as an educated Indian in a white man’s world.
Author Timothy Egan (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award) portrays the life and work of Edward Curtis with insight and compassion. As a photographer, I found Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher not only fascinating, but also a page-turner. This book on Edward Curtis is for anyone with an interest in photography, and also with an interest in great people of American history. If you’re a photographer it’s important to study what’s come before, and Egan’s Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher comes highly recommended.