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Arts & Culture

OREGON EXPERIENCE: The River They Saw

OPB | Oct. 6, 2008 10:27 p.m. | Updated: Dec. 5, 2013 11:13 a.m.

The beauty and magic of the Columbia River Gorge has attracted photographers for more than 150 years. Oregon Public Broadcasting, in collaboration with the Oregon Historical Society and the Portland Art Museum, presents an hour-long OREGON EXPERIENCE chronicling the history of the Gorge with rarely seen images crafted by Carleton Watkins, Sarah Ladd, Benjamin Gifford, Al Monner and many others. These early photographers left a stunning visual legacy through images still considered among the greatest landscape photos ever made. Tune in to the stations of OPB on Monday, November 10 at 9pm (rebroadcast on Sunday, November 16 at 1pm).

Carleton Watkins was the first significant photographer to visit the Gorge. He arrived in 1867 and traveled by steamboat and portage railroads upriver and down. He was also a master of large format landscape photography using wet-plate technology — a remarkable undertaking that meant transporting large amounts of chemicals, a dark tent and heavy glass plates used to make negatives in the field. His photographs offer a glimpse into what life was like in the Gorge during the latter half of the 19th century.

Many photographers — both amateur and professional — would follow, each offering a unique look at the landscape, business and industry that was developing in the Gorge.

“The River They Saw” uses an astounding collection of photographs to reveal the immense salmon runs at Celilo Falls, the early canneries and fish wheels. This visual history shows how travelers navigated the untamed river and how technology changed the Gorge with the building of locks and canals, the Columbia Gorge highway and the dams at Bonneville and The Dalles. 

Viewers are encouraged to visit the Portland Art Museum to experience the concurrent exhibition “Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, 1867-1957.” This stunning selection of historic images, on view at the Museum October 4, 2008-January 11, 2009, features photographs by several of the artists showcased in OREGON EXPERIENCE “The River They Saw.” An Oregon Historical Society exhibit also running October 4-January 11 features Carlton Watkins’ stereoviews of the Columbia River Gorge. The Oregon History Museum will display nearly 100 photographs of the Columbia River Gorge that Watkins printed in the popular, 19th-century stereoscopic format — two identical photos mounted together that, when viewed through a special lens, make the image become three-dimensional.

About OREGON EXPERIENCE
OREGON EXPERIENCE is an exciting new history series on OPB-TV that brings to life fascinating stories that help us understand who we are and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. The series, co-produced by the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), takes advantage of the extensive film, video and stills from the archives of OHS and OPB, and draws upon the expertise of OHS researchers and historians. Each half-hour show features captivating characters — both familiar and forgotten — who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. Funding for OREGON EXPERIENCE is provided in part by Ann & Bill Swindells Charitable Trust, James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust. The OREGON EXPERIENCE Web site is opb.org/oregonexperience.

About OPB
OPB is the state’s most far-reaching and accessible media resource, providing free access to programming for children and adults designed to give voice to community, connect Oregon and its neighbors and illuminate a wider world. Every week, over 1.5 million people tune in to or log on to OPB’s Television, Radio and Internet delivered services. As the hub of operations for the state’s Emergency Broadcast and Amber Alert services, OPB serves as the backbone for the distribution of critical information to broadcasters and homes throughout Oregon. Oregon Public Broadcasting is a statewide network that includes OPB Television, an affiliate of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and OPB Radio, presenting local news coverage and the programs of National Public Radio (NPR), Public Radio International (PRI) and American Public Media (APM). The OPB Web site is opb.org.

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