“He did express his frustration. He was on a night rotation,” Blackburn, The Columbian’s editorial page assistant, said. While other staffers were booking flights to photograph Mount St. Helens, “He was shooting high school sports.”
When his shift rotated around, “He was excited to get into the air,” Fay Blackburn said.
Columbian microfilm shows Reid Blackburn was credited with aerial photos of Mount St. Helens that ran on April 7 and April 10.
He would have shot that undeveloped roll on one of those assignments. Maybe he didn’t feel the images were up to his standards. Maybe he didn’t trust the camera; it was the only roll he shot with that camera on the flight.
But he would have had more than one camera, said former Columbian photographer Jerry Coughlan, who worked with Blackburn at the newspaper.
“We all had two or three cameras,” set up for a variety of possibilities. Riding in a small plane, “You didn’t want to be fumbling for lenses,” Coughlan said.
Former Columbian reporter Bill Dietrich teamed up with Blackburn during one of those early April flights over the volcano.
“Reid was a remarkable gentleman, with the emphasis on gentle,” Dietrich said. “He was an interested human being, with a great eye. He saw stuff.
“As a reporter, that’s a great thing about working with photographers. They see things,” Dietrich said.
“The newsroom was so electrified when the volcano first awoke. It was an international story in the backyard of a regional newspaper,” said Dietrich, who now writes historical fiction and Northwest environmental nonfiction. “We were all pumped up and fascinated.”
The first occasion was shortly after his death. Columbian colleagues, including Coughlan and Dave Kern, now assistant metro editor, visited the blast zone and recovered some of the personal gear from the car where Blackburn was sitting when the volcano erupted.
One of the items was a camera, loaded with a roll of film. But the film was too damaged to yield anything.
“I remember thinking that I’ll never see a place as depressing as this wasteland,” Kern recalled.
And the keepsake he remembered most was linked to what former reporter Dietrich called Blackburn’s “great eye.”
“Of all of Reid’s belongings that we retrieved, it was his glasses that affected me the most,” Kern said.