“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.
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.
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.