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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

March 30, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Choose Hope: a new photo exhibit on the Duwamish at the Burke

When he worked at The Seattle Times, former staff photographer Tom Reese took some of the most evocative and sensitive photos made at the newspaper of the natural world. I still remember his patience in the Hoh Rain Forest, spending an entire afternoon with me for a story on big leaf maples, getting just the right slant of light through the moss-padded trees, or the gilded glide of an autumn leaf, kiting to ground.

Gifted as he is at photographing Washington’s beautiful places, he captures Washington’s suffering landscapes with singular artfulness.

Since he has left the paper, Reese has done some remarkable independent work on the Duwamish, where his photos invite consideration, appreciation and wonder in a place so often overlooked as a trashed and forgotten landscape. Seattle’s only river, the Duwamish is the subject of his powerful photo essay at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.


Copyright Tom Reese

Consuming, and Paying the Price: Despite progress cleaning up the Duwamish, garbage, toxics in storm water runoff, and industrial pollution still find their way into the river every day.

The exhibit opens April 5, 5-7:30 p.m. and runs through July 8.

Here’s Tom on what fuels his ongoing attention to the Duwamish as a subject, from my interview with him this week:

“I am just fascinated at how humans relate to the environment. The Duwumish is such a microcosm of all the issues. And visually there is such a juxtaposition of what people have done and what nature there still is. I always look for layers and there is a lot to be found there. And the Duwamish is in the middle of where we live, and nobody knows about it.

“We define ourselves as the mountains and the Sound. But there is a river in Seattle. And it would be cool if it was more along the lines of how we would like it to be. Mostly, you just want people to care. The more people who care, the more likely positive things will come out of it.”

Here, from the exhibit, is a preview of the narrative accompanying Tom’s photo essay, provided by Tom, courtesy of the Burke Museum:

“Choosing Hope: Reclaiming the Duwamish River

Photo essay by Tom Reese

A downward spiral

The Duwamish River flows into Puget Sound at the southern end of Seattle’s waterfront. While people have lived along its banks for at least 11,000 years, efforts to tame the wild river through settlement and industry have nearly destroyed it over the past century. Ten years ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified the lower stretch as a toxically contaminated Superfund site.”

Yet the river is far from dead. Along its shorelines, and in its water and even its sediments, life persists.

More from the text of the exhibit:

“The power of hope and restoration

While the Duwamish can be hard to love in its current state, it flows powerfully through the hearts of those who know it well. A growing number of people are working on the recovery of the river and it is beginning to respond to the human touch. Salmon, bald eagles, harbor seals, native plants, and humans have all started to come back. The larger question for the river-and ourselves-is “What relationship do we choose to have with the natural world?”


Copyright ┬ęTom Reese

A Lot Left to Save: Osprey nest on platforms built to replace natural habitat among industrial warehouses and parking lots along the Duwamish. Here, an osprey chick awaits a meal of sanddab delivered by a parent. Unfortunately, bottom fish live among toxic sediments that can spread up the food chain from this Superfund site.

What will be the future of this river? Ultimately, that will be up to all of us. Choices made here will test our judgment, good sense, and stewardship. How clean is clean enough?


Copyright ┬ęTom Reese

Hatchery-bred Salmon: Wild Duwamish salmon runs have been nearly destroyed by urban development. Efforts to save what’s left depend on human intervention, and have driven rehabilitation efforts on the river as a whole. This young salmon begins its journey to the sea through a hatchery’s pipe.

Here’s the link to the project at Blue Earth Alliance, a project sponsor.

For more on Tom, here’s his website.

For more on the Duwamish, read this story by another fine former Seattle Times staffer, Ian Ith, published in the Pacific Magazine. Seattle Times environmental reporter Craig Welch has also written more recently in Pacific on the Duwamish clean-up and the questions it poses. Tom shot the photos for both magazine stories.



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