The Wow Factor – May 18, 1980

The eruption of at 8:32 a.m. Sunday May 18, 1890 killed 57 people and still is considered one of the deadliest and most destructive natural disasters in United States history. The “Wow Factor” as I see it, besides the actual event itself,  is how Longview Daily News photographer Roger Werth’s powerful photograph of the mountain exploding that’s been reproduced hundreds, maybe thousands of times world wide since then, became the cover photo on the June 2, 1980 edition of Time Magazine. To me personally, the “Wow Factor” was when I first saw the image.

Time magazine cover photo by Roger Werth

First off, it’s the tale of two newspapers – The Journal American in Bellevue Washington and Longview Daily News in Longview Washington clsoe to Mt. St. Helens and about 130 miles south of Bellevue. Both papers were owned by John McClelland’s Longview Publishing Company. The two newspapers had teams of young, dedicated journalists and editors who understood the power of the moment.

Second, it’s the story of how, under difficult circumstances, we maximized contemporary technology to be able to make a color image of the “The Big Blowup” available to Time Magazine in time for their June 2 edition that hit newsstands the Thursday after the mountain blew.

Thirty six years later Roger Werth and I discussed that day in history earlier this year. We needed to refresh our collective memories about that day and just how frantic and dangerous – for Roger at least – the situation was. We also talked about the technology advancements since then that have made our experience seem so primitive.

I was a staff photographer at the Journal American in Bellevue Washington scheduled to work that Sunday. Roger in Longview was on alert to fly since geologists had predicted the mountain looked like an eruption was imminent.

In preparation for a possible eruption the Journal American had arranged for a commercial color film processor in Belleuve to have someone available 24/7  if and when the mountain blew. We had coordinated with our flagship paper in Longview  to have Roger’s color film flown to Bellevue to be processed. Roger said he shot both black and white film and color transparency film during the event from a twin-engine, low-wing aircraft. He said even just a half-mile from the exploding mountain there was “no turbulence, it was very smooth flying.”

No cell phones, no wi-fi, no internet in 1980.   It was all land line communication and pagers. After I got the heads up late Sunday morning that Roger’s film was on its way I drove to the small airport  that no longer exists near Eastgate just north of the 148th ave interchange with I-90 to wait for the plane arrive.  I then drove the film to the processor who had been alerted then an hour or so later picked up the approximately dozen sleeves of processed color slide film.

To see that film for the first time under a 4X Lupe on a light table at the newspaper was one of my most memorable experiences as a photojournalist. I think I said “Wow” several times during the edit. History literally spread out in front of me over two light tables. Roger’s shoot covered the mud flows and devastation from the initial blast, but the one picture that stood out during the edit was the picture that ended up on the cover of Time magazine as well as covers of both the Journal American and Longview Daily News Monday morning May 19.

After color separations of the images we used in our local editions were finished Sunday night the film was packaged up and flown to New York  and photo agent Woodfin Camp who negotiated with Time Inc. on Wednesday for Thursday May 22 publication.  Per news magazine edition dating procedures “The Big Blowup” edition was dated June 2.

Roger told me the $10,000 fee Time Inc. paid for his photo at the time was the most ever paid by the company for a cover photo. Because of the difficult logistics and communications in those days, Roger said Time had no choice but to pay Woodfin Camp’s price – it was the best picture of the explosion available and in their hands soon enough to reproduce it on the cover for Thursday’s publication.

Today, “The Wow Factor” during major news events seems to happen in mili-seconds compared to our experience with the technology of 36 years ago.  Today, Roger could have boarded that twin-engine airplane with a cell phone, shot the event, transmitted the photo to Time Inc. in a matter of minutes or even seconds after he shot it, and his photo may have been tenth or twentieth inline for consideration. The power of his image will never be diminished of  course, but my, how the speed and impact of “The Wow Factor” has changed.





Small World Dave Salzer

What are the odds?  It was early 1983 when I responded from the Journal American News Room in Bellevue Washington to a chemical spill response by the Redmond Washington fire department.  Didn’t sound like a big deal initially – some sort of chemical reaction outside a manufacturing plant. But we thought it might be newsworthy thus worth a photograph.  Turned out to be visually an interesting spill as fire fighters doused the pesky multi-colored fire and white smoke.  I shot that in color.

After the fire was extinguished and the fire fighters retreated each one was hosed down with fresh water to decontaminate their clothing. One of the fire fighters near my shooting position dramatically pulled off some of his fire fighting gear as another fire fighter prepared to blast him with the hose. I turned just in time to catch the fire fighter in the full spray of the fire hose ducking and weaving to make sure each side of his body was exposed to the spray.  Made a good black and white picture.

As the spray subsided and I walked over to get the fire fighter’s name I was astonished. He was Dave Salzer, a classmate of mine at Clover Park High School in Lakewood Washington who I hadn’t seen since I left Clover Park in 1962.  We greeted each other and had a good laugh about the situation.  I told him I would see him at the Clover Park 20 year reunion that upcoming summer.

At the reunion I presented Dave with a large, mounted version of the print in front of the class and added during the ceremony that he was the only classmate I know who really “got hosed.”  Fun time.


“Ben, meet Howdy Doody”

Late afternoon  May 26, 1983 I was assigned to photograph world famous puppet Howdy Doody that was at the time on display at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.  The famous western-clad marionette played Buffalo Bob Bob’s sidekick during the immensely popular 1950s NBC children’s show of the same name – The Howdy Doody Show.   Growing up in Tacoma in the  fifties I was a devoted fan of the show and in my heart a member of the show’s Peanut Gallery in New York.

Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody
Studio photo of Buffalo Bob Smith with Howdy Doody and Flub a Dub from the children’s television progam Howdy Doody – circa 1949.

Our 8-year old son Ben was out of school that afternoon so I thought he might want to meet  Howdy as much as I did.  The encounter turned out to be a wonderful father son experience. The curator and puppeteer who traveled with Howdy on its nationwide tour met Ben and I near the exhibit. He was a pleasant enough guy and both Ben and I liked him immediately.

“So,” he asked rhetorically, “You both want to meet Howdy Doody?” He left for a few minutes and then walked the marionette toward Ben and I seated nearby. I thought a valuable marionette like Howdy would show up in a glass case. “This is the real, original Howdy Doody used in the show as Buffalo Bob’s sidekick,” he said.  Ben and I were all smiles. The curator explained that during the show’s 13-year run a look-alike puppet named “Photo Doody” substituted for the on-air Howdy at promotional events and advertising appearances. He again reminded us that the Howdy Doody marionette was the real deal.

The curator then  maneuvered  Howdy near Ben and tweaked the strings so Howdy leaned on Ben’s arm.  He graciously allowed me to photograph the setup. It was a special moment in my career. By the way, Howdy had 48 freckles, one for each state in the union at the time.

Howdy Doody puppet
Benjamin Larsen and the original Howdy Doody puppet and a nice moment at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry in 1983.

“The Snake”

September 16, 1979 the Oakland Raiders blew into Seattle’s Kingdome and were treated to a typical rousing reception by the early 12th man Seahawk fans. Quarterback Ken Stabler, nicknamed “The Snake” was in his last year with the raiders and was under Seahawk defensive pressure the whole afternoon led by defensive tackle #74 Manu Tuiasosopo.  The Seahawks won 27-10 behind Jim Zorn and Steve Largent. Stabler, who was just recently nominated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame was born on Christmas Day 1945 and died July 8, 2015 – too soon for one of the most colorful and controversial but talented quarterbacks to play in the NFL.

Ken Stabler throws
Oakland Raider quarterback Ken Stabler throws off his back foot during the September 16, 1979 game with the Seattle Seahawks in the Kingdome.

Rugby – One Time

I was a sports shooter early in my career.  The action and challenge was worth the frustration of deadline pressures and sometime physical abuse.  The movement. Had to do with the movement.

Every once in a while a photo assignment from the sports department would be be dealt to the photo department that was more than routine. Rugby football. Now that was tantalizing.  A rough and tumble international outdoor sport I might not ever get to photograph again.  I never did.

All I can remember almost 40 years later is that two Eastside Rugby clubs were set to face off and a sports reporter planned to write a feature story on the exhibition that was open to the public.

Recently as  I rummaged through some sleeves of black and white negatives from those early days on one sleeve I had scribbled Rugby..just the name.  No date, time, place, anything else, just Rugby.   I wasn’t very good at Meta data back in the day.

These photographs are from the six film strips that survived. Tri-X, ASA 400.


Early Seahawks – What a ride!

Jack Patera and Jim Zorn
Seahawk head coach Jack Patera (white shirt) consults with quarterback Jim Zorn (right), Dave Krieg and Sam Adkins during a home game with the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1981 NFL season . It would be Patera’s last full season as head coach. He was fired after two games into the 1982 season, just prior to the player’s strike.

Somewhere, most likely in a dusty box at Seahawk’s headquarters, is a photograph taken sometime in the late 70s or early 80s of a group of media photographers who regularly covered Seattle Seahawks home games in what we politely referred to as the meat locker otherwise known  as the Kingdome. For a long time the picture hung in the Seahawk’s Kirkland headquarters on a small space designated as the media hall of fame. In the photograph we were all lined  up against the wall of the west end zone shot from God only knows where or by whom either just before the game or a timeout.  I stood in the middle of the picture (the young man with the long hair and moustache)  and represented the Journal American newspaper in Bellevue.

Jeff Larsen, Larsen
Me circa 1985 during a UW game at Husky Stadium. Shot by my late friend Bruce Kellman from the News Tribune in Tacoma. Photo by Bruce Kellman

If I may indulge.  A few memorable personal moments from those early years in the Kingdome:
With no clear receiver, Jim Zorn (Zorn to Largent days) unleashes a pass out of bounds as he rolls to his right.  The ball flight was directly at my face as I kneeled on the sidelines. The ball ticked my ear as I jerked my head left to avoid a face removal.

Witnessed Photographer Rich Frishman shooting for the Everett Herald at the time (early to mid 80s), across the field from my position, get hammered by Seahawk all pro Linebacker Michael Jackson when Jackson, after missing a tackle, whirled in the air out of bounds, and caught Frishman and his cameras head on. Lots of broken cameras but Frish survived. He made the highlight reel.  But did Frish ever publish his foot pictures?

Fran Tarkenton and the Minnesota Vikings came calling one year and again I almost took it in the face.  Hall of famer Tarkenton, known as king of the scrambling quarterbacks in the 60s and 70s, was on his second tour with the Vikings when he played here.  In the red zone, he rolled out to his right, scrambled back and forth. Suddenly he stopped, rifled a pass to wide receiver Ahmad Rashad cutting across the back of the end zone.  Rashad missed the catch and the ball slammed into the back wall inches from my face.

More to come.

Note: For sure that picture I mentioned earlier is a classic. Recently I managed to roundup some other vintage Seahawk photos (below) from my personal archive.  Unfortunately the small batch scarcely touches the number of images I shot during those early years. Three of the five newspapers I worked for ceased publication over the intervening years.  No telling where the negatives and transparencies are.

And to learn more , check out this Seattle Times January 2015 interview with 81-year-old Jack Patera.

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EagleNook 04 – Another Edit

Jeff Larsen

I browsed through a collection of CDs this week to see if I could find more photos from my summer of 2004 visits to the spectacular EagleNook Resort on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  Luckily I had found the collection of CDs from the shoot in a box in the garage carefully labeled.  With the latest computer technology at hand,  I downloaded a bunch of images that I hadn’t included in the first trip edit for the Seattle P-I in June 2004 that I had located earlier.  See EagleNook Resort & Spa under Photo Albums/Professional Travel Photography .

dick beselin
Dick Beselin at the controls of his de Havilland Beaver over the west coast of Vancouver Island.

For both visits back then – the first in June for my travel column and the second in July for Eagle Nook Resort & Spa – I flew out of Kenmore Air Harbor in the right seat of accomplished pilot Dick Beselin’s shiny green Beaver float plane to spend a couple of days at his scenic resort property nestled on a small peninsula between two bays near Barkley Sound. Be sure, EagleNook is not my parent’s fishing lodge accomodations (which was an army surplus tent at Neah Bay in the 50s).  As you can tell by the smile on my face (and hopefully by the following photographs) both trips were special indeed!

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A Career of Moments

Woodinville Washington fire
Woodinville Washington firefighters attack a furniture factory blaze. (circa 1980).

Turned 70 August 2015. Lucky to make it this far.  Time to round up a career’s worth of photographs and try to make some sense of it all.  I Still have a lot to photograph ahead of me and I’m now blessed with excellent health to do it. But now in my 10th year of retirement from an active and rewarding 34 year career in photojournalism, photo editing, reporting and finally travel writing and photography to try to catalog what I can into something meaningful and hopefully entertaining.

WordPress, I’ve decided, will be the foundation for my interactive look at the past. Comment if you wish if I can safely activate the comment action. Over the next few weeks, months and years I’ll post my pictures already organized into folders under under a variety of categories – posting about interesting stories I was involved with along the way.  I’ll try to comment on as many images as I can.  I’ll continue to post images until the well runs dry. It’s a labor of love.

Hope you can visit and stay interested.

Jeff Larsen, Seattle Washington         October 25, 2015