IN THE YEAR 2000, Kodak announced that consumers around the world had shot more than 80 billion photos, setting a record. Yet that record has been exponentially broken. Last year alone, nearly 1.5 trillion photos were taken (some 4 billion per day), mostly on smartphones to share on social media. Our yearly total comprises more than all of the photos taken in the 150 years before this millennium.
RELATED: “Now” photographer Jean Sherrard shares his 360-degree videos at the new YouTube channel, Seattle Now & Then 360.
As a result, entire categories of photography are disappearing. Itinerant street photographers no longer offer portraits for pennies, wedding shoots are in steep decline, and postcard photographers are few and far between.
Among the photographers featured in this column over the years, J. Boyd Ellis looms large. A former high school principal in Marysville, he bought the Photo Art Studio in 1921 in Arlington, his hometown. For more than 50 years, he and his son Clifford traveled the state, capturing photos of stunning vistas and local curiosities (such as hollowed-out stumps large enough to squeeze through in a Model T) to sell as postcards to tourists and locals. Prolific collector John Cooper, with a stock of more than 5,000 Ellis cards, explains, “No one covered the state like Ellis, because he was no specialist. He went everywhere.”
This week’s “Then” photo, taken in 1942, soon after the United States entered World War II, boasts some of Seattle’s finest mid- to high-rise commercial structures from the city’s boom years of the 1920s. The four-story Great Northern Railway Building (right foreground) and its across-the-street neighbor, the 15-story 1411 Fourth Avenue Building, are Art Deco masterpieces, completed in 1929. Designed by brilliant, eclectic architect Robert Reamer (who also created Lake Quinault Lodge and Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Inn), they gracefully anchor the Central Business District. The often-glazed terra-cotta-clad buildings include the 10-story Gothic Revival Fourth and Pike Building (1927) at the far end of the block, and the landmarked Joshua Green Building (1913), peeping out just opposite.
Keen-eyed readers also will note the “US 99” sign affixed to the lamppost at lower right, evidence that before the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Highway 99 poked along Fourth Avenue.
Standing recently at this vantage, I pleasantly rediscovered this Seattle treasure: a downtown block that had hardly changed over the past 80 years, increasingly rare in our rapidly morphing city. Emphasizing the point, just over my right shoulder (and out-of-frame), at the southeast corner of Fourth and Union, the uniquely “sloping” 58-story Rainier Square Tower is under construction. Upon completion in 2020, it will be the second-tallest building in Seattle. No doubt its visage will be shared many thousands of times in the coming months — and perhaps in a postcard!