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William Stafford's Life As A Photographer

OPB | Jan. 21, 2014 midnight | Updated: Jan. 21, 2014 9:53 a.m.

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Jason Bernert

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William Stafford with one of his cameras

William Stafford with one of his cameras

Courtesy of the William Stafford Archives, Lewis & Clark College

From receiving a National Book Award for his work Traveling Through the Dark to serving as a consultant in poetry for the Library of Congress, William Stafford is largely known for his work in poetry. However, he also left behind another large body of work: The William Stafford Archives at Lewis & Clark College houses more than 16,000 negatives from Stafford’s life as a photographer.

In the early ’60s, Stafford and his family went on a walk and passed by a garage sale where a retired FBI officer was selling his darkroom.

“On a whim, my dad bought this old beast of an enlarger and the trays and so on,” says Kim Stafford, William Stafford’s son. “My poor sisters came home from school one day and the inside of their playhouse was painted black. We found out later you’re not supposed to paint a darkroom black because you can’t see anything.”

Before the darkroom, Stafford was already taking photos. During World War II, Stafford photographed his time in Arkansas, Illinois and California as a conscientious objector. While based in Los Prietos, California, Stafford met his future wife, Dorothy Franz, whom he married in 1944. They had four children: Brett, Kim, Kit and Barbara. Stafford began to photograph his family’s travels.

Poet William Stafford left behind a photo collection of 16,000 negatives that can be found in the William Stafford Archive at Lewis and Clark.

As a poet and writer, Stafford would also bring his camera to literary festivals and photograph poets like Robert Bly and Paulann Petersen. Following the festivals, Stafford would send poets and writers a letter with a print of their photo.

“I have a wonderful photo that he took of me. When I say wonderful, it’s because I know who was on the other side of the camera,” says Paulann Peterson, Oregon Poet Laureate.

After winning the National Book Award in 1963, beating out William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost, Stafford gained recognition not just from those in the poetry world, but all fans of poetry. Still, Stafford didn’t want to be in the spotlight.

“When he became famous, the camera allowed him to leave the center of the circle and document the other writers,” says Kim Stafford.

After his death in 1993, the Stafford family donated a collection of Stafford’s private papers, publications, recordings and photographs to Lewis & Clark College, where Stafford taught for 22 years.

GO SEE IT

William Stafford Retrospective Exhibit

January 21-December 31, 2014
Lewis & Clark College, Aubrey R. Watzek Atrium and the Miller Humanities Center, Portland

View more details »

A collection of 180 photos from the more than 16,000 negatives donated to the archive will be on display at Lewis & Clark College as part of the William Stafford Retrospective Exhibits. The exhibit is part of a larger collection of events celebrating 100 years since Stafford’s birth in 1914.

The exhibit will be on display at the Watzek Atrium and the Miller Humanities Center  at Lewis & Clark College from January 21-December 31, 2014.

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