“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.”
He took it to a Portland photo supply company, which outsources black-and-white film to a freelancer.
When he got it back and saw the film-sized images, “I was astonished to see how well the film showed up,” Wayrynen said.
And then there was the content. Blackburn could have photographed anything on that roll, Wayrynen said.
“When I saw aerials of Mount St. Helens — a long-gone landscape — It was beyond my expectations,” he said.
This is the second time people have tried to coax images from film that Blackburn left behind.
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.