“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 May 18, 1980, eruption still is a historical landmark, as well as a huge scientific event: That’s why the roll of film was discovered a few weeks ago.
A photo editor working on a geology book contacted Lutes. She’d come across a Columbian photo of a logjam on the Cowlitz River, taken on the day of the eruption, on a website and wanted the image.
Lutes sorted through a couple of boxes labeled “Mount St. Helens” and tried — unsuccessfully — to find that film.
She did find a ripped paper bag, with Blackburn’s negatives spilling out.
“I thought I’d better put it in a nice envelope so it wouldn’t be ruined,” Lutes said. “Then I found that roll. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we found what was on it?'”
Troy Wayrynen, The Columbian’s photo editor, agreed.
But with the switch to digital imagery, “I wasn’t sure if anyone even processed black-and-white film anymore,” Wayrynen said.