Catching Birds with a Camera: Finley, Bohlman, and the Photographs that Launched Oregon’s Conservation Movement

Herman T. Bohlman and A. W. Anthony photographing kingfishers. Portland, Oregon, 1902. Org. Lot 369, Finley A2723.

February 1 – July 31, 2019

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In their explorations of the marshy ponds around turn-of-the-century Portland, William L. Finley and his childhood friend Herman T. Bohlman developed an artistic knack for bird photography. Through popular essays and community lantern slide shows, the pair introduced audiences to the hidden lives of their avian neighbors. Their images and careful observation also provided an important body of scientific evidence and influenced conservation policy. After his marriage in 1906, Finley’s wife, Irene, took an active role as his field partner. During the 1920s and 30s, the Finleys worked closely with Nature Magazine, publishing photographs, articles, and films about the wonders of wildlife in western North America.

Finley and Bohlman’s activism, along with that of other Oregon bird lovers, led to the passage of the Model Bird Act of 1903 and the formation of the Oregon Audubon Society (now the Audubon Society of Portland). Their images also played a key role in President Theodore Roosevelt’s decision to declare Three Arch Rocks, Klamath, and Malheur as special wildlife reservations. Serving as Oregon’s first state game warden and state biologist from 1911-1919, Finley helped lay the foundation for Oregon’s public lands and wildlife management.

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Images in this exhibit were digitized as part of a year-long collaboration between OHS Research Library and OSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center. The Reuniting Finley and Bohlman project was supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.