A recent digitalization project at Oregon State University recalls for us the work of William L. Finley (August 9, 1876 to June 29, 1953). This wildlife photographer has a wildlife refuge named after him.
CORVALLIS — Valeria Davila takes a yellowed newspaper article out of a manila folder, carefully unfolds it and spreads it out face-down on a flatbed scanner in the archives department of Oregon State University's Valley Library. It's from the Feb. 16, 1930, edition of the Los Angeles Times, a full-page photo spread that shows close-up images of a mountain lion and her cubs in the wild.
The pictures were taken by William L. Finley, a pioneering wildlife photographer from Oregon whose work with early collaborator Herman T. Bohlman and later with wife Irene Finley helped popularize the cause of conservation in the early part of the 20th century. Their efforts also called attention to the ravages of plume hunters on wild bird populations and spurred President Theodore Roosevelt to create wildlife refuges at Three Arch Rocks, Malheur Lake and Klamath Lake in Oregon.
"For a photographer to make those kinds of things happen is very important," said Davila, .... "And also they are very good images. Photographically speaking, I love them."
Davila is part of a team of 10 people at OSU and the Oregon Historical Society working together to scan more than 6,000 photographs and 8,600 pages of documents.
When the project is finished at the end of June, it will produce a single digital collection that combines OSU's holdings — 500 of Bohlman's photographs and a treasure trove of newspaper clippings, lecture programs and other ephemera discovered in the attic of the Finleys' Portland-area home — with the Oregon Historical Society's extensive selection of Finley's wildlife photos. It will also include some of the short nature films that Finley produced in collaboration with his wife.
....“Researchers who have been using these collections have been having to go back and forth between OHS in Portland and OSU in Corvallis because a lot of the material that explains the photographs at OHS is in the OSU Library archives,” she said.
That can be especially important for scholars studying the early work of Finley and Bohlman, who teamed up on a number of photography expeditions from 1900 to 1908 and shared the heavy labor of hauling cumbersome box cameras and heavy glass plates to nearly inaccessible bird colonies in marshes, on seastacks and in the tops of trees. It’s not always clear who tripped the shutter on a particular photograph.
“The provenance on a lot of those is kind of mixed,” Cray said. “It was definitely a collaborative effort.”
The collaboration essentially ended in 1908, as the newly married Bohlman became engrossed in his home life and his family’s plumbing business. So Finley began a new professional partnership with his wife, Irene. After their marriage in 1906, the couple worked together for 30-plus years on photography projects, nature books and a series of short wildlife films, which they showed to eager audiences on tours of the United States and Europe. Both Finleys wrote numerous articles on natural history, and William was in wide demand as a lecturer on the subject.