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A man and his camera

WL man helps curate new exhibit for Museum of the Oregon Territory
by: Ralph Eddy Ralph Eddy, an Oregon City resident, captured images of local life throughout Clackamas County and Oregon during much of the 20th century.

The first new exhibit to grace the walls of the Museum of the Oregon Territory in nearly a half decade, 'A Man and his Camera: The Photographs of Ralph Eddy' allows visitors a glimpse at largely unseen local 20th-century images thanks to the efforts of one West Linn history buff.

John Klatt, of Old Oregon photos, spent about three months restoring negatives donated to the museum, enlarging 165 of Eddy's photographs for the exhibit, which will remain on display through at least the end of 2012.

Although he received a small grant to cover some of the costs of materials and labor, Klatt's work is part of a larger volunteer effort to revitalize the museum. It was closed for two months this winter so the work could be completed.

'The museum has had trouble, as have a lot of museums,' he said. 'This was a chance to refresh and reorganize the rest of the exhibits and do this exhibit and give people a reason to come on by.'

He said that, while the museum is located in Oregon City, the Clackamas Country Historical Society, which operates the museum, is doing what it can to live up to its name and feature exhibits from other parts of the county.

Eddy's work, for example, features scenes from throughout Clackamas Country - and the state.

The photographer, a New York native who lived in Oregon City, began capturing images for his high school yearbook in about 1908 and continued taking photos, even in retirement, until his death in 1970.

The exhibit contains examples of his work spanning that time, Klatt said, and its subtext focuses on how cameras and photography evolved throughout Eddy's lifetime.

'It's kind of a fairly large story,' Klatt said, adding that Eddy's career can be separated into five distinct phases. 'We're trying to tell the story of how he progressed from a portrait photographer to a journalistic photographer to his postcard photography.'

Eddy then used a 35 mm roll camera to create more abstract compositions and, in retirement, turned to slides and shots of the American Southwest.

'As cameras evolved, he evolved,' Klatt said. 'He was responding to what he could sell, but also, as cameras got to be more portable, he got more portable.'

Eddy is mainly remembered for his postcard photography, which makes up the majority of the exhibit.

'They're really stunning,' Klatt said. 'You can enjoy it from an artistic point of view.'

Also displayed, however, are some of Eddy's early portraits, along with many examples of his work around Oregon City and West Linn. There is even a series of photos depicting the construction of the Oregon City-West Linn Arch Bridge.

Klatt said the exhibit will allow visitors a firsthand look at the cameras Eddy used in his day as well, including one that use glass plate negatives.

'People can see what early photographers saw underneath that black cloth you always see them underneath,' he said.

The exhibit shows just how far photography has come, Klatt said, and recognizes the work of a talented local photographer who is often overlooked.

'Photography is like a lot of other things,' Klatt said 'There's a lot of good musicians who never become famous, and there's a lot of good photographers that never became famous.

'(Eddy) was a very good photographer.'

The Museum of the Oregon Territory is located at 211 Tumwater Drive in Oregon City. It is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Wednesday and the first and third Saturdays of the month.

For more information about the museum, visit clackamascountyhistoricalsociety.art.officelive.com.

For more information about Old Oregon, visit oldoregonphotos.com.



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