Photographs and the ability to share them instantly with dozens – or thousands of people – is part of daily life in 2012. But a century before we became bombarded with the isn’t-my-dog-cute-and-look-what-I’m-having-for-lunch photostream on social media, photography was used to promote grand themes.
Like Washington state.
A show that’s just opened at the Washington State History Museum displays the work of photographers who presented Washington in its best light in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“Click! Classic Photographs from Washington” contains more than 40 black-and-white photographs used to promote the state and its industries just as Washington came into statehood in 1889.
“Photography developed with the state,” said the show’s curator, Maria Pascualy, who selected the images from the Historical Society’s collection of half a million photographs.
The photography just might have worked – Washington’s population tripled between 1890 and 1920.
Logging is a theme in many of the photos, which reflect a different ethos than that of today. First oxen and then trucks carry sections of huge old-growth trees through forests and towns.
In a 1910 photo by the noted timber industry photographer Darius Kinsey, five young loggers pose with a giant Douglas fir they are about to fall by hand. One man reclines in the undercut.
Other industries depicted include fishing, agriculture and iron working.
The photos in the exhibit were meant for public consumption and ran in magazines and newspapers, as well as on postcards and brochures, Pascualy said.
“Every town, every chamber of commerce was hiring a photographer to promote themselves,” she said.
Some of the photographs don’t seem all that enticing.
A 1908 image shows a horse-drawn wagon almost buried up to its axles in mud on a Seattle street. Another shows a Seattle Ku Klux Klan gathering in 1923.
A photograph made at Olympia’s Crane’s Market in 1905 shows a store hung with hog and chicken carcasses while elegantly dressed women shop below them.
The photographs were made all over the state, but Tacoma is heavily represented.
“Tacoma is a very interesting place for photography,” Pascualy said.
Tacoma images include:
• Headquarters of the Northern Pacific Railroad at South Seventh Street and Pacific Avenue looking much like it does today
• Kosher butchers inspecting chickens at the Washington Co-op in 1936
• Ironworkers turning out huge steam locomotive wheels in 1920
• A tank from Fort Lewis crushing whiskey bottles during Prohibition in 1927
The exhibit doesn’t just focus on white residents. The display includes an image of American Indians at Neah Bay in the early 1900s as well as a panoramic image showing the all-black members of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Lodge in Tacoma. Another image depicts the students and staff of the city’s Japanese Language School in 1934.
The exhibit also displays period photography equipment, including Northwest photographer Asahel Curtis’ view camera and glass plate negatives.
Asahel was the lesser-known brother of famed photographer Edward Curtis. Many of the photographs in the show are by Asahel.
A small supplemental section explores later experimental work, including photography by Tacoma’s Virna Haffer. ‘Click! Classic Photographs from Washington’
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays through May 5
Where: Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
Admission: Adults $9.50
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