The Grays Harbor region that Pratsch photographed between 1888 and 1913 may best be described as a small collection of recently formed company towns owned by timber and rail interests (Pope & Talbot Company and Northern Pacific). Grays Harbor and its densely wooded environs provided ample work in difficult conditions. The Pratsch Collection includes a diverse assortment of union images and workers involved in shipping, logging, and other industries in the Pacific Northwest. The images reveal a wildly unequal distribution of the wealth derived from the region and the struggles to build communities from scratch.
At the age of 25, Charles Robert Pratsch (born 1857) left Iowa with his brother-in-law, Lester L. Darling. In 1884, the two homesteaded adjacent claims on the Wishkah River near the future site of Aberdeen (organized as a town in 1885). Pratsch's family soon joined him and entered into the business community of Aberdeen by running a hotel and bakery. Although Charles Robert Pratsch occasionally helped out in his family's hotel, he clearly did not relish the work. So in 1885, when the opportunity to learn photography presented itself, he eagerly paid the necessary three hundred dollars to a professional photographer to learn the craft. Pratsch later taught photography to a Canadian logger, Colin S. McKenzie, who had been seriously injured by a falling building during the Aberdeen fire of 1903. No longer able to work in logging, McKenzie pleaded with Pratsch to teach him photography. Pratsch agreed and allowed McKenzie the use of his cameras and studio. When McKenzie died during a gun fight in 1912, his prints and negatives were given to Pratsch. McKenzie's work now forms a small, identified portion of the collection.
Photographs from the Pratsch Collection capture the full range of industries in the Grays Harbor region, including milling, hunting, shipping, fishing, sealing, and other maritime activities. Shipping is especially well documented with extensive photographs of the coasters, lumber ships, and schooners that plied the coast and rivers and sailed to all parts of the world. Portraits of union members, business leaders, laborers, families, mill offices, lumber camps, and fraternal organizations, as well as Quinault Indians, record everyday life and working conditions along the west coast of Washington State at the turn of the twentieth century. The 64 portraits and photographs of the Quinault Indians provide some of the earliest images of a people, who in the 1880's and 1890's were not far removed from their aboriginal state, still harvesting the ocean and beaches for food.
Scenes of urban life in Aberdeen and Hoquiam document these communities from their earliest times of sawdust and wooden streets. A series of images depicting city buildings, residences, businesses, and transportation record the growth of civic life. One has the sense that, as a homesteader, Pratsch paid special attention to, and took pride in, photographing each new development in the region, whether it was the completion of the Aberdeen high school, the construction of new businesses, or the testing of fire hoses. Circumstantial evidence indicates that Pratsch was not successful as a commercial photographer. Few of his signed and mounted prints reside in repositories around the Pacific Northwest. McKenzie's untimely death and his interest in taking pictures of his former colleagues --poor timber workers-- perhaps precluded a lucrative career. Their freedom from excessive commercial appointments, such as portrait sessions, allowed the photographers to go out doors and record subjects often overlooked, thereby, creating this personal vision of the region.
Searching the Collection:
Entering search terms in the box located at the top of the page will search across all of the database fields. Search results are displayed as a series of thumbnail images that may be browsed, both forward and backward. To view the larger image and its corresponding description, double click on the thumbnail. Any highlighted text in the description below each full-size image is searchable; just click.
Creating the Online Collection:
Trevor James Bond, Special Collections Librarian, supervised the project and created this page. Duncan Shea scanned original photographic prints as 300 dpi TIFF files on a Microtek 9600XL scanner and then added 72 dpi JPEG files to the CONTENTdm database. Al Cornish provided technical support for CONTENTdm. Michael Walpole designed the site.