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Photo collections preserve Hells Canyon

East Oregonian

Published on January 27, 2018 12:01AM

A photo taken on a stretch of the Snake River during a guided float trip 40 years after the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act was passed by Congress to protect the area.

Photo contributed by Kendrick Moholt

A photo taken on a stretch of the Snake River during a guided float trip 40 years after the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act was passed by Congress to protect the area.

Folk musician Pete Seeger sings on the shore of the Snake River at Hells Canyon in the early 1970s.

Photo contributed by Boyd Norton

Folk musician Pete Seeger sings on the shore of the Snake River at Hells Canyon in the early 1970s.


An upcoming exhibit at the Pendleton Center for the Arts shows how fine art photography can be used to affect change and save scenic areas from devastation.

Wilderness & Sublimity: Photography and the Conservation of Hells Canyon features two collections of photos, one from the late-1960s and early-1970s and the other from 2016. Both highlight the beauty and power of the Snake River as it flows through Hells Canyon.

The opening reception is Thursday, Feb.1 from 5:30-7 p.m. at the arts center, 214 N. Main St., Pendleton. Photographer Kendrick Moholt, who organized the traveling exhibit, will be in attendance. The event is free and open to the general public.

Boyd Norton is the photographer who connects the two series of works. In the late ’60s, he was working as a nuclear physicist with the Atomic Energy Commission’s Nuclear Reactor Testing Station in Idaho.

A founding member of the Hells Canyon Preservation Council, the group formed to fight the proposal to build a huge dam that would flood the Hells Canyon area of the Snake River. Norton began photographing the scenic area, documenting the dynamic landscape during hikes and float trips with other conservation allies, including Arthur Godfrey and Pete Seeger.

Well-known folk musicians, their support lent a bit of celebrity to the cause. However, it was Norton’s photographs that were the true stars of the project.

After seeing the photos, former Sen. Bob Packwood championed the effort to protect the free-flowing portion of the river. After eight long years, the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Act was passed by Congress — protecting the area, which included prohibiting dams in the vicinity.

Norton left the nuclear field to further pursue photography and conservation writing. In addition to his work appearing in many publications, he has won numerous awards. In 2010, he was named “One of the 40 most influential nature photographers from around the globe” by Outdoor Photography Magazine.

More than 50 years after the Hells Canyon conservation effort began, Josephy Center for Art and Culture created a residency program to produce art on another float trip on the Snake River. Guided by Winding Waters River Expeditions, Norton, along with photographers Jason Yale, Amy Gulick, Terry Donnelly, Rick McEwan, Kendrick Moholt and poet Cam Scott, traveled through the river’s spring flood waters to capture images and write poetry.

The exhibit features the decades old photos Norton took, poems written and images shot during the 2016 trip, and congressional documentation from the formation of the HCNRA. Together, the works celebrate the art and heroic efforts that helped in preserving the wild landscape.

The arts center exhibit was underwritten by Betty Klepper, a retired scientist who has been involved with the Stewards of the Umatilla River Environment and organized many river cleanups and beautification projects.

The arts center is open Tuesday through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. The exhibit runs through Feb. 24. Also, paintings by Pendleton artist Judith Graham are featured in the Lorenzen Board Room Gallery. For more information, call 541-278-9201 or visit www.pendletonarts.org.



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