Darius Kinsey – The Ansel Adams of the Logging Industry

When it came to capturing on film in amazing detail the splendors of the deep woods and colorful characters that inhabited them, Darius (Dee) Kinsey was without a peer. Considering the vagaries of poor light in the tall timber and his primitive equipment, his accomplishments were truly remarkable. On October 8, 1896, at Nooksack, Darius Kinsey and Miss Tabitha (Tib) Pritts stood before a minister and said the necessary words. He was 25 at the time. After a tour of the Puget Sound cities, the young couple settled in Sedro Woolley. They built a home on Talcott Street (now torn down) complete with a sky-lighted studio. Darius died in Sedro-Woolley on May 13, 1945, at the age of 74.Click for Photo gallery of Kinsey’s photographs

He took any kind of work that came to his photographic shop and anything else that was photogenic and unusual in the field. Indians, hop fields, ox teams, hauling logs and shingle bolts over skid roads goaded by tobacco squirting, swearing drivers, floods, and sections of picturesque up-river pack trails. He created a picture book of how things looked in the steam era of logging in the Pacific Northwest. Kinsey captured the rugged beauty of the landscape and grit and humanity of its pioneers, men and women engaged in carving out lives on the frontier, just as they carved through the lumber that provided their livelihood. He created a detailed panorama of the steam era of logging in the Pacific Northwest.

He travelled widely to capture the loggers in every phase of their work. He made his living by taking selling the loggers the pictures he took of them. He recorded the changing phases of machinery and methods. It is hard to visualize in this day the hardships this entailed. Though a small man he was blessed with a tremendous amount of energy, and he needed it.

At first he traveled by horse and buggy with his gear over muddy or dusty, almost nonexistent roads as far as he could. Then he would catch a gas speeder into a logging camp if he were lucky, or hit the trail on foot carrying his heavy 10 by 14 inch camera (that elevated to height of 14 feet), the old-fashioned glass plates that weighed out at 25 pounds to the pair and other necessary equipment. After that came the task of setting up in the woods and sometimes having to build a scaffold to obtain the proper perspective, for he was a perfectionist. Later on, he used improved, lighter cameras and traveled by automobile. Meantime, his good wife who had learned the technical art of developing, presiding over a beehive of labor at home in the studio processing the plates that her husband had sent back from his field work while he traveled on to take more. At one time she had as high as 16 people employed when a rush came on.

If you want to learn more about Kinsey, we suggest that you read: Dave Bohn & Rodolfo Petschek. Kinsey Photographer (A half century of negatives by Darius and Tabitha May Kinsey). San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1982 (ISBN 1-884822-22-3). The authors record Darius and his partner/wife Tabitha and their family in Volume I, with the help of their daughter Dorothea. In Volume II they work with Darius Jr. to present some of the finest of the 4,500 negatives that miraculously survived the decades from 1905 to 1975.

After seeing the results of the authors’ work, it is difficult to understand the indifference of publishers who could not see the value of the Kinsey collection until these two fine men showed them Volume III: the locomotive portraits, which contains the photos of trains that Darius chased into the wilderness and forest.

Most of the Darius Kinsey’s photographs are available online thanks to the University of Washington. Click here to see.

Click on the picture above to see samples of Darius incredible work.