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Mount St. Helens images found decades later

By dpreview staff on Jan 13, 2014 at 08:00 GMT
Mount St. Helens images found decades later
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Mount St. Helens images found decades later

Reid Blackburn is The Columbian photographer who died in the Mount St. Helens eruption on May 18, 1980. (The Columbian)

Source: The Columbian


Total comments: 27
By Ednaz (3 months ago)

A group of us were going to go up camping for a few days, beginning the day before Mt St Helens blew, in the area where everyone was killed. We were out of work actors (is that a redundant phrase?) however, and didn't have enough money to buy food for the trip and gasoline for the car, so we didn't go. Stayed in Portland so we could lean on friends for meals. Sometimes being broke works out OK.

I have a lot of pictures of the eruption at various stages, shot from the top of Mt Tabor, our friendly neighborhood extinct volcano. My camera at the time took some serious damage when the ash plume came down over Portland and I went out shooting. Focus helicals and shutter damage - the dust was so fine there's no sealing that could stop it. That ended my photography hobby for years, until I could afford to replace the camera.

1 upvote
Peters Dad
By Peters Dad (3 months ago)

I was working at a photo store in Portland at the time of the blast. We had the first 1-hour C-41 photo processing machine in Oregon. A customer of ours was climbing the mountain right up to the rim every couple of days (he knew the backroads to avoid road blocks) before the blast and was bringing back some remarkable photos. I still have copies! He was on the south side of the mountain the day it blew- lucky guy survived! In the weeks after I would watch the mountain from the famed Pittock Mansion in the west hills above downtown and marveled at its power and beauty. And yes, when the wind blew toward town on an eruption day it was a mess. Bandanas and face masks were a regular thing. Combining rain with an eruption it actually rained mud more than once. What a time.

Comment edited 45 seconds after posting
By Cjar (3 months ago)

The entire area, including the area of devastation is still quite beautiful.
Anyone who wants to see what the area might look like in about 100 years should visit Lassen National Park.

Kudos and thanks to the scientists who studied this mountain before and since. Your life-saving work is appreciated.

1 upvote
Michael Ma
By Michael Ma (3 months ago)

I wonder what people of 100,000 years in the future will see when they look at our high resolution photos of today. They will probably have a trillion megapixels, but it's not like you can't see the pores off people's face today.

1 upvote
By Tony67 (3 months ago)

What's inside that lens?

By Hokuto (3 months ago)

I climbed St. Helens around 1968-9 and wrote my name in the book at the summit (then kept in a steel box). While St. Helens was not a technically difficult climb, it was known for the danger of its crevasses, likely created by the heat of magma near the surface as it melted the snow against the mountain's surface. I climbed with two other guys and we stayed roped up a large proportion of the time, I recall. An acquaintance one year behind me in high-school was killed when he fell into a crevasse several years later. Portland was really lucky when St. Helens erupted, since the pyroclastic blast exited the north side of the mountain. Had it decided to exit on the southwest side, Portland would probably be known as the second Pompei. Even so, I think Portland got several inches of ashfall (I was in grad school on the east coast at the time).

1 upvote
By Ferling (3 months ago)

I was living in Snohomish, about 200 miles away, at the time of the eruption. I was doing chores outside and could clearly hear the explosion which sounded like a high powered rifle. Since we lived in farm way out in woods I gave it little thought until my Mom frantically called me in watch the event on the TV.

It quickly escalated into a scary deal, not knowing if the winds would shift and send the ash clouds in our direction. The local hardware stores sold out of plastic sheeting and tarps.

I'll never forget it.

By vFunct (3 months ago)


1 upvote
TN Args
By TN Args (3 months ago)

This story will never be repeated. Not with the words "staff photographer for the ( ) newspaper" in it.

By pfzt (3 months ago)

that is true and also sad, because that was a nice job and the pictures of that time were exceptionally good. but we will have pics from every future event nonetheless. Bored, well equipped middle class tourist and people with nice mobile phones are all over the world taking millions of pictures of everything. and sometimes the pics are even "better", just because they were there at the right time. many times that is all a picture needs.

b craw
By b craw (3 months ago)

Fascinating. One can only imagine how much unprocessed film documenting many historical events may be undiscovered; certainly with each discovery new information is possible - and those are exciting prospects in the ever-evolving nature of historical study.

I lived in Portland, OR during the last noteworthy venting of St. Helens; it was clearly visible from there. The whole Cascade Range is beautiful, the volcanic peaks visible from so many areas in the Northwest. In the case of St. Helens, and potentially in the case of the others, you become aware of the duality relating to this beauty, involving the potential for awesome and dangerous displays of natural force. Many are simply unaware of the scale of this force historically. I believe Seattle sits atop an ancient lahar (volcanic mudflow) resulting from a massive eruption of Mt. Ranier. The eruption of St. Helens, as impressive as it was, was relatively minor in comparison with potential volcanic events in the region.

By jhinkey (3 months ago)

This news is a few weeks old at least, but it's still cool and glad it made it to DPR.

1 upvote
ddd - rrr
By ddd - rrr (3 months ago)

I don't often remember where I was on a particular day, but I do know about where I was on May 18, 1980. I was hiking not far from Mount St. Helens on a miserable day and on a miserable “trail”. When we finally reached the destination lake with ice floating in it, I shed my clothes (as most others did in the group), and went into the freezing water to wash off the mud and to wash the scratches from the thorns. We heard, felt, and saw nothing unusual on the hike. On the return trip, the only thing unusual was seeing no traffic on the 4-lane highway we were on while returning to Seattle. At dinner in Seattle, the waitress told us about what had happened! She felt the explosion when it happened, which surprised us, given our location that was much nearer to it when it occurred. Surprising to me while watching the incredible video images of what had happened (and was continuing to happen) on local TV, was the almost non-existent coverage on the national TV networks until days later!

By wudyi (3 months ago)

I think the guy that got the Newsweek magazine cover of this event posts here in the Off Topic forum.

1 upvote
By cjcampbell (3 months ago)

It was clear from the beginning that if St. Helens suddenly stopped erupting the mountain could explode in about three days. Its structure is very similar to Katmai, the volcano responsible for the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Sure enough, St. Helens abruptly stopped erupting and sat relatively quiescent for three days. Then it exploded, just as Katmai did. This is a general pattern among volcanos of the northern Cascades.

St. Helens has had several smaller eruptions in the time since. This is probably a good thing. But I still find it disturbing to see parents taking their children to see an erupting volcano, oblivious of the devastation surrounding them.

1 upvote
By hulkster123 (3 months ago)

Here's some airborne pictures from one of the secondary eruptions -

By lynmay (3 months ago)

THanks for the link. Too bad the photographers didn't get credit for some of the use. Right place at the right time.
Thanks again.

By jkoch2 (3 months ago)

Mount St. Helens erupts every 300 years, more or less. It has erupted roughly 1,000 times since first appearance in "Ape Canyon." Sasquatches failed to capture pictures of the earliest events, perhaps because late Pleistocene (hand) imaging technology equated to ISO of only 0.01, and the operators perished under hot ash and pumice before completing the work. Witnesses to the next eruption in 2250 (or therabouts) may have the advantage of 480 fps plenoptic 4000k video. However, some believe that some horrific human goof-up in the interim will extinquish all knowlege, meaning that the challenge will revert to some future species using chistles or hand-daubed pigments.

Steve in GA
By Steve in GA (3 months ago)

Perhaps you are too young to remember the St. Helens eruption. It was not only spectacular, it was also horrific. People died, and in terrible ways.

Maybe it's not a good idea for you to try to inject humor into this event.

By jkoch2 (3 months ago)

There were significant forewarnings of the eruption and many of the victims were there by choice or refused to evacuate. The 1980 eruption was not the worst on record, either. The geologists who set up camp too close made a statistical wager that proved spot-on: it was a once-in-lifetime event. Had the volcano merely sputtered, might they have been less fulfilled?

Stalwart mountaineer Harry R. Truman probably figured his time had come: either go out with a firey blast, or die laughing if the experts were wrong. Either way lead to the immortality of legend.

Anyone who resides or builds in proximity to volcanoes (or large fault-lines) must accept the risks and self-insure.

In any case, whatever is inevitable must be considered with some grain of humor, or else heaven is a pretty boring or horrific place.

Comment edited 50 seconds after posting
Amnon G
By Amnon G (3 months ago)

It might be me, but it almost sounds like you're angry or dismissive of the people that lived there, did their work or wanted to keep their homes.
When an astronaut dies, are you also snarky about them knowing the risk and stating they should have known better?
I am not attacking you, I just want to understand why you seem so peeved about that.

1 upvote
By Archiver (3 months ago)

Right now in Melbourne, Australia, we are suffering a shocking heat wave that brings back memories of bushfires that ravaged Victoria in 2009. Many died and many others lost their homes in the bushfire prone regions. Some died because they chose to stay to defend their homes from the fires; they made their choice, and lost their lives regardless.

The same can be said for those who choose to live in volcanic regions, hurricane and typhoon regions, and the like. While they make a deliberate choice, we can still have sympathy for those who don't make it.

Ben O Connor
By Ben O Connor (3 months ago)

So there is no volcano proof camera.... Pentax ?

Thanks to share such dramatic story. R.I.P Reid Blackburn....

1 upvote
By MarkByland (3 months ago)

If Pentax delivers "volcano proof" before Full Frame, I'd seriously question their business model.

By InTheMist (3 months ago)

Such a powerful story. One really must click through and read more.

By EduardoKleinFichtner (3 months ago),_1980_St._Helens_eruption.jpg

Comment edited 33 seconds after posting
1 upvote
By sixtiesphotographer (3 months ago)

Hard to believe that was 33 years ago. I saw the eruption and took photos of it. I remember hearing about the photographer who died, among others, too.

Mt. St. Helens was very pretty before the Spring of 1980.

Total comments: 27