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September 9, 2013 at 8:21 PM

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Northwest Wanderings: Instantly images can be shared

A man pulls up at Crown Point in the Columbia Gorge, hops out of his car and snaps a photo with his cellphone.

Maybe he'll post it to a blog or Instagram, send it into the pixelsphere in seconds.

We are so spoiled without even knowing it.

When William Henry Jackson, who helped define the West, took the Union Pacific to the end of the line in 1866, it left him only 100 miles beyond Omaha, Neb. He joined a wagon train on the Oregon Trail as a bullwhacker until he reached the Great Salt Lake. The painter and now explorer delved into photography, and four years later he was invited to join a survey crew heading to the Yellowstone region.

His photographs led Congress to create the first national park in 1872.

He had a few men and carried transported photographic equipment on the backs of mules.

His largest camera used glass plates measuring 18-by-22 inches.

The plates had to be coated, exposed and developed in the wilderness. A tent was his darkroom.

Broken glass meant lost images when a mule stumbled and fell.

At best, it was at more than an hour to produce a photograph.

If he needed more plates, he scraped off a previously recorded image.

George Eastman, who invented roll film and popularized photography for the masses with the Kodak camera, was then only a teenager.

Edwin Land, who brought instant photography to consumers with the Polaroid camera, was two generations away from being born.

For Jackson, working his way along Yellowstone waters and hot pools, there were no roads, no supply points, maybe a trapper to be encountered, and what he carried with him.

Now, if we can't post a photo to the Internet immediately, we have to take a deep breath and hit the road until the service is restored to our cellphone.

-Alan Berner/The Seattle Times


Crown Point in the Columbia Gorge provides a sweeping panorama of the river 25-miles east of Portland. The popular viewpoint is more than 700-feet above the water on the Oregon side.


William Henry Jackson, Pueblo Laguna, New Mexico, 1883. Albumen print on cardboard. Denver Art Museum; The Daniel Wolf Landscape Photography.

For more photos, visit the gallery.

Alan Berner: 206-464-8133 or

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