Picturing the Columbia: The Photography of Sarah Hall Ladd and Lily E. White

October 27, 2020

By Laura Cray

In “Twilight on the Columbia — Castle Rock in the Distance,” Lily E. White depicts an unidentified person standing in a rowboat in still water near Castle Rock (today known as Beacon Rock) in about 1902. Reflections of Castle Rock and the surrounding mountains on the water and the relative smallness of the figure in the boat magnify the grandeur of the gorge’s landscapes. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 662, album 712, plate 9. https://digitalcollections.ohs.org/twilight-on-the-columbia-castle-rock-in-the-distance

Few Oregon landscapes hold a place of such prominence as the Columbia River Gorge. With dramatic rock formations, waterfalls, and broad expanses of water, it is easy to understand why the Gorge is among the most photographed places in Oregon. For Lily E. White and Sarah Hall Ladd, the Columbia River Gorge served as the canvas for their work, which captured the energy and the lighting of the Gorge’s tempestuous weather like few other photographers have before or since.

Two photograph albums featuring selections of White and Ladd’s work from 1900–1905 were recently added to OHS Digital Collections. The albums are part of the Ladd Family Photographs and the Lily E. White photographs. The photographs stand on their aesthetic merits as works of art and are also an important piece of historical documentation of a region in the early stages of rapid industrialization that brought extensive change to the Gorge during the twentieth century.

White joined the Oregon Camera Club as a “lady member” in 1898. At that time, women were not allowed full membership in the organization, however, her noted photography skills elevated her to a position of demonstrator, where she instructed fellow members on the art of photography. It is likely through the club that White and Ladd, who joined in 1899, became acquainted.

In 1903, White commissioned the construction of a houseboat, the Raysark, which featured several living quarters and its own dark room allowing White, Ladd, and their fellow photographers to spend extended trips photographing the Columbia River. We’ve selected a few of our favorite images from the collection in the slideshow below.

If you are interested in learning more about the photography of Lily E. White and Sarah Hall Ladd and the process of digitizing the collection, join the OHS Digital Collections team November 18, 2020, for our next virtual installment in our members-only Behind the Scenes with OHS series: “Taking the Lily White and Sarah Hall Ladd Photographs from Boxes to Bytes with OHS Digital Collections.” Not an OHS member but would like to join us for the program? Become a member today!
 

The “Raysark” moored at the base of Castle Rock. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 58, Album 201, Plate 14.

The “Raysark,” the luxurious houseboat and floating photography studio commissioned by Lily E. White, served as a mobile home for White, Ladd, and the other members of the Oregon Camera Club who would join them on extended summer trips down the Columbia River. This untitled view, taken in about 1902, shows the base of Castle Rock (today known as Beacon Rock), which was a favorite moorage spot for the “Raysark.” The towering rock formation features prominently in many of both White and Ladd’s photographs. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 58, album 201, plate 14.

https://digitalcollections.ohs.org/untitled-columbia-river-near-castle-rock

View of Mount Hood and Hood River from the northern side of the Columbia River. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 662, Album 712, Plate 14.

In this photograph titled “Mt. Hood at Hood River,” Lily E. White captures a view of Hood River that is still mostly trees and open hillsides with a snow-capped Mount Hood in the distance. This photograph was taken from the northern side of the Columbia River between 1900 and 1905. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 662, album 712, plate 14.

https://digitalcollections.ohs.org/mt-hood-at-hood-river

Submerged Forest near Columbia River, ca. 1902–1905, OHS Research Library, Org Lot 58, Album 201, Plate 11.

In this view, taken between 1902 and 1904, Sarah Hall Ladd captures the ghostly trunks of pine trees drowned by the shifting waters of the Columbia River following the Bonneville Landslide around 1450 AD. Today, this stand of trees, often referred to as the Submerged Forest, is once again submerged in the reservoir of water behind Bonneville Dam. OHS Research Library, Org Lot 58, album 201, plate 11.

https://digitalcollections.ohs.org/untitled-submerged-forest-along-the-columbia-river

St. Peter’s Dome, ca. 1900–1905, by Maud Ainsworth. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 662, Album 712, Plate 32.

Maud Ainsworth was a fellow photographer who accompanied Lily White and Sarah Hall Ladd on many of their summer photography adventures on the “Raysark.” In this photograph taken between 1900 and 1905, Ainsworth captures the reflection of Saint Peter’s Dome on the water of the Columbia River. The settlement of Dodson is visible on the shore. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 662, album 712, plate 32.

https://digitalcollections.ohs.org/st-peters-dome-3

Blockhouse Mountain near Rooster Rock.  OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 662, Album 712, Plate 12.

While on first glance White and Ladd’s photography captures the untamed beauty of a yet to be engineered Columbia River, closer inspection reveals signs of impending industrialization. Fish wheels and weirs, embankments for railroad tracks, and riverside communities are present in the distance of many of their photographs. In this photograph of Blockhouse Mountain, taken near Rooster Rock between 1900 and 1905, fish wheels and the Columbia River Packers Association cannery are visible along the shoreline. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 662, album 712, plate 12.

https://digitalcollections.ohs.org/blockhouse-mt-columbia

“Oak Hill Farms,” by Lily E. White, ca. 1900–1905. OHS Research Library, Org Lot 662, Folder 1, Plate 3

In “Oak Hill Farm,” Lily E. White diverged from the dramatic landscapes of the Gorge to capture a pastoral scene in which sheep are the subjects. This photograph was likely taken in the White Salmon Valley, just north of the Columbia River in Washington, between 1900 and 1905. OHS Research Library, Org Lot 662, folder 1, plate 3

https://digitalcollections.ohs.org/oak-hill-farm

Portrait of woman identified as Sally Waukiagus, a member of the Klickitat Tribe, by Lily E. White, ca. 1901. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 662, Folder 1, Plate 1.

Lily E. White is also known for her series of posed portraits of members of the Native communities along the Columbia River. In this portrait taken in about 1901, a woman identified by White as a member of the Klickitat Tribe named Sally Waukiagus, sits wrapped in a blanket holding a woven basket. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 662, folder 1, plate 1.

https://digitalcollections.ohs.org/sally-waukiagus-klickitat

Laura Cray’s Other Posts

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