Oregon Trail through camera lens

Written by Dick Mason, The Observer October 24, 2012 02:28 pm

This photo of Scotts Bluff in Nebraska is one five taken by Eric Valentine of La Grande now displayed at the “Trails Through Time’’ exhibit. ERIC VALENTINE photo
This photo of Scotts Bluff in Nebraska is one five taken by Eric Valentine of La Grande now displayed at the “Trails Through Time’’ exhibit. ERIC VALENTINE photo

Two La Grande photographers featured at Interpretive Center exhibit that portrays the type of images pioneers may have recorded if they had packed current cameras along their arduous journey 

The question is an intriguing one for historians and non-historians alike. 

If travelers on the Oregon Trail had modern cameras 150 years ago, what would their photographs of landmarks and other features on the route have looked like?

The answer may be found in a new exhibit at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, one which includes the works of La Grande photographers Fred Hill and Eric Valentine. 

The exhibit, “Trails Through Time: Contemporary Photography of the Oregon Trail,” features 50 recent images of the historic route meant to portray what pioneers actually saw. Those submitting Oregon Trail photos were asked to “reimagine the landscape and how pioneers might have captured their journey if they had today’s cameras packed in their wagons,” according to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center’s web site.

Six of the “Trails Through Time” photographs were shot by Hill and five by Valentine.

The exhibit “shows the (Oregon Trail) icons as the pioneer diaries described them,” Hill, said. “We endeavor to show them as the pioneers might have seen them in the 1850s or 1860s.”

The pictures taken by Hill, who has had photos published in numerous books, reveal images of the Blue Mountain Crossing west of La Grande, Scotts Bluff and Chimney Rock in Nebraska, the Platte River Bridge in Colorado, the wagon ruts at Guernsey, Wyo., and an abandoned wagon near Rock Creek in Nebraska.

In keeping with the theme of the exhibit, Hill said he was careful to make sure none of his photographs had any images of “four-lane highways or 18-wheel trucks.”

The images shot by Valentine include ones of Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff, Farewell Bend and a tall grass prairie in Kansas.

Valentine said he is very impressed with how the photo display is set up in the Flagstaff Gallery at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. 

“It is laid out in impressive, viewer-friendly fashion.’’ 

Valentine also noted that he was struck by how the display portrays the obstacles pioneers faced.

“It captures the timeless spirit of the Oregon Trail pioneers who came through our valley.”

Valentine and Hill worked together before submitting their photographs for the display, deciding on which pictures to select and more. 

“It was so much fun to collaborate with Fred. He is a deep well of information and wisdom,” reported Valentine.

The “Trails Through Time” exhibit will run through Nov. 12.