Back in the late 1960s, in Ed Taylor’s minerals classes at Oregon State, Terry Toedtemeier found a “fascinating beauty” in the microscopic chemical and physical manifestations of rocks.
“I never really understood it,” said the curator of photography at the Portland Art Museum. “Something about that sense of order, that regularity, that predictability you can observe with your hands and your eyes.”
“It came naturally for me, especially the aesthetics.”
Now, 39 years after he earned his OSU degree in geology, Toedtemeier has taken his life-long interest in rocks and minerals and his career in photography, and has joined forces with his long-time friend to create Wild Beauty, a stunning collection of 134 photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, the earliest dating from 1867.
Toedtemeier and John Laursen, the book’s co-author, designer and production manager, published the 360-page volume earlier this month with their Northwest Photography Archive and the Oregon State University Press.
“Geology is a giant story,” Toedtemeier said, “and if you live long enough and study the familiarity of it, you understand what the story is.”
For Toedtemeier and Laursen, the story of the Gorge in photographs begins soon after the Civil War when Carleton Watkins crafted “exceptional creations” — albumen silver prints from large-format glass negatives. Later, they were inspired by the works of Lily White and Sarah Ladd, two Portland photographers who became part of the Photo-Secession movement in New York in the early 1920s –- elevating photography to an art form.
“All these ideas came together seven years ago,” said Toedtemeier, a Portland native, “and we decided to start making the book for ourselves,” creating their non-profit to plan and amass the $250,000 needed to publish it.
Divided into five major sections, Wild Beauty takes readers through rapids and waterfalls, rock formations and the beaches, white men’s railroads and Native people’s fishing villages to 1957, when The Dalles Dam finally drowned Celilo Falls.
Reproduction of the museum-quality photographs involved three early and major choices, said Laursen.
“This was a philosophical decision to honor the original vision of what the author created rather than how it had been affected by the passage of time.”
Getting each image ready for print, therefore, meant restoring it by removing stains, tears, missing emulsions and stray writing accumulated over the decades, said Laursen, a Northwest native who owns and operates Press-22 in Portland.
The result is each appears “with the freshness and vitality it had when first produced by the photographer,” Laursen said.
Then, almost imperceptible to most viewers, the 134 photographic plates are printed with four-color
process “to capture the subtle differences” within each photograph and each print medium: albumen silver, gelatin silver, photogravure, platinum and Kodachrome, along with the hand-painting done on many black and white photographs.
Finally, the pivotal decision in the production of Wild Beauty was printing it locally at Bruno and Doris Amatter’s Millcross Litho Press in Portland. “Theirs is a world-class shop,” Laursen said of the couple, who, while visiting 40 years ago from Switzerland where they met in a print shop, decided to remain in Oregon after their car broke down in Albany en route to California.
“We were very fortunate to have had Bruno’s skill and experience involved in this effort.”
One special benefit of the local operation was the opportunity for Laursen to press check each photograph at the beginning of each run. Although a grueling process, entailing going to the printer every hour-and-a-half every day for three weeks, it was part of the dedication to perfection that the project team wanted.
No short-cuts were taken, Laursen explained, making it possible for the reader to “look at the photographs as though at a museum.” Each is on its own page, 60 square inches in area, caption to the left, an introduction preceding each of the five sections. The size of the book itself – roughly one foot square — is the largest that can be printed and bound in Oregon, and its weight is seven pounds.
“What we’ve produced is a portable version of a museum exhibition,” Laursen said.
“These images are part of our shared cultural heritage, and our purpose is to make them available permanently to the widest possible audience.”
~ by Ed Curtin
OSU Press plays important roll bringing Wild Beauty to life
Wild Beauty is the inaugural volume in a new book series initiated by the Northwest Photography Archive in collaboration with Oregon State University Press. Jo Alexander, Tom Booth, and Mary Braun of the Press staff worked closely with authors Terry Toedtemeier and John Laursen for more than six years on planning the Northwest Photography Series. The Press is now overseeing the marketing and distribution of the new book, said Booth, associate director of the Press.
In order to publish the 360-page volume at a reasonable cost — it retails for $75 — Toedtemeier and Laursen formed the non-profit Northwest Photography Archive to raise funds.
The finished tome is available many bookstores across the country, including the OSU Bookstore and Grass Roots in Corvallis, Powell’s City of Books and the Portland Art Museum in Portland, online from Northwest Photography Archive, or by calling the University of Arizona Press, 1-800-426.3797.
Wild Beauty is “an Oregon project created by a fabulous team of top craftsmen,” Booth said.
“No one else could have done justice to what we envisioned.”
Off the press Oct. 4, Wild Beauty had an original press run of 5,000 copies. Timing was to make it available for the holidays, Booth said.
Expanded exhibition of Columbia Gorge photographs on display in Portland
Much of the photographs of Wild Beauty can also be seen at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 S.W.
ParkAve., where an expanded exhibition called “Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, 1867-1957” is on display through Jan. 11.
The exhibit, with Toedtemeier as its photography curator, contains nearly 250 photographs.
Exhibit hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; and noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $10 adults, $9 seniors, and free for those 17 and under.
Additional information is available at the Portland Art Museum’s website: www.pam.org
Copy for the captions with all the photographs on this page was written and provided by John Laursen, co-editor, designer, and production manager of Wild Beauty.
“LIFE/Work” is a regular feature of LIFE@OSU. Along with In the Classroom, Mentors, OSU Around Oregon, and especially Commentary, we encourage submissions and suggestions of articles that would be of interest to the staff and faculty of Oregon State University. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, comment on this and other stories already appearing in our print and web editions. — Editor