Nature photographer Keith Lazelle has long had an affinity for the Hoh River. His first date with his wife, Jane Hall, was a hike along the famed Olympic Peninsula river to Mount Olympus.
When Phil Davis, the executive director of the Hoh River Trust, heard that story he knew Lazelle was the right person for a project Davis developed in 2006. Davis needed a photographer for a book that would capture the beauty of the river.
“A lot of people, even in Puget Sound, haven’t been over to the Hoh,” Davis said. “We wanted to bring it to the rest of the state.”
So Lazelle and his wife spent much of 2007 wandering the river and its valley, looking to capture its varied habitats, colors and moods. They spent one summer week hiking 50 miles along the river.
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The book. “Fast Moving Water,” came out in early 2008 and met each of Davis’ expectations.
“This is a great tool to share the river with people who might not get out there,” he said.
More than a dozen of Lazelle’s images from the book are now on display at the Washington State History Museum, the heart of the exhibit called “Fast Moving Water: The Hoh River Story.”
Organized by the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and the Hoh Trust, the photographs and text panels allow visitors to trace the river’s story, from its history and cultural significance to the cooperation needed to protect the river.
Accompanying the images and text are nature sounds gathered by Emmy-award winning sound recordist Gordon Hempton.
Since 2008, the traveling exhibit has been shown at seven locations across the state. It also is scheduled to be shown in Sequim in early 2010.
The exhibit images were culled from the approximately 8,000 photos Lazelle took while working on the book.
“It was a dream assignment for me and my wife. We’ve spent a lot of time on the west end,” Lazelle said. “We met, around 1980, on the Soleduck (ranger) district when we both worked for the (U.S.) Forest Service.”
Lazelle’s affection for the Hoh is rooted in the river’s uniqueness.
“It’s very different than a lot of places in the Cascades or the east side,” he said. “It’s the moss draping from the trees, the wildness, the ruggedness, the purity of the water.
“It’s just tremendously beautiful. The color of the river itself is unique. It changes from blue to turquoise to jade to mocha when it’s flooding. One of the things I’m asked a lot: ‘Is the water really that color?’ They ask because they haven’t been there to see it.”
One of Lazelle’s favorite images is a mix of reds, oranges, blues, purples and black in a photo he took at the river’s mouth, with Middle Rock in the distance.
“It’s kind of become to me a logo or symbol. If I included that seastack in the image, you would know it’s the Hoh River.”
The exhibit takes viewers from the headwaters to where it flows in to the Pacific Ocean more than 50 miles away. It’s a easier task to do with 82 images, as in the book, than the 14 main images in the museum exhibit, Lazelle admitted.
“But hopefully we can inspire people to go out there and visit it itself,” Lazelle said.
“It is important to get people out there to experience it and feel they are a part of nature,” he added. “The more you can get people out there, the more you can get them to want to protect it for the future.”
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640