Podcast | Preserving 50 years of Pacific Northwest photography

Asahel Curtis shot thousands of images in the early 20th century. Knute Berger talks about the effort to share them with the public for the first time.

Asahel Curtis and his camera

This image from a postcard shows photographer Asahel Curtis and his camera. (Washington State Historical Society)

Asahel Curtis, the renowned Pacific Northwest photographer, was amazingly prolific. He documented regional life for 50 years, from the 1890s to the 1940s. Crosscut’s resident historian Knute Berger explored Curtis’ work and legacy in Season 5 of the Mossback’s Northwest video series, but that legacy now has a new chapter.

As Berger detailed in a more recent episode of Mossback’s Northwest, he’s revisiting Curtis’ story thanks to a new project that aims to digitize the approximately 60,000 glass plate and nitrate negatives that make up the photographer’s massive archive.

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The Washington State Historical Society will spend the next few years painstakingly scanning each one. The goal is not only to preserve the history the images contain, but also to share them — for free — with the public.  

In this episode of Mossback, Berger joins co-host Stephen Hegg to discuss the digitization project and all it entails, as well as a handful of remarkable photographs the process has turned up already. Plus, they dig into the philosophical aspects of photography in an increasingly online, AI-driven world, where notions of fact and reality can seem elusive. 

About the Hosts

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.

Stephen Hegg

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is formerly a senior video producer at Crosscut and KCTS 9. He specialized in arts and culture.