Ray Atkeson (1907-1990) began photographing the Northwestern U.S. landscape in the 1930s. He became especially well-known for his stunning black & white images of the ski and snow country in the Western states. The early, romantic days of skiing in the West, the 1930-1950s, were a time of glamour and great excitement. Hollywood movie stars in the latest snow fashions shared chair lifts with the originators of “extreme” skiing. Skiers zoomed down the mountains with primitive equipment, relying on enthusiasm and their own brand of skill to take them successfully to the bottom.
Atkeson’s photographs appear alongside his peers Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Lillian Bassman, Eliot Porter and others in several collections, including Ansel Adams’s This is the American Earth (1960), U.S. Camera’s The Best of 1957 and John Steinbeck’s America and Americans (1960).
A prolific photographer and printer, Atkeson documented these early times with a heavy, large-format 4×5 camera and photographed a rich variety of winter mountain scenery and activity. Many of his alpine photos were taken before the chairlift was invented and required ski stamina and enduring prolonged exposure to harsh winter elements.
“One photo of an ice cave in Mount Rainier is a technical triumph” was written in the 1971 New York Times review of his photography book The Pacific Coast. In 1990, the New York Times wrote that Atkeson was “Considered the dean of Northwest nature photography.”
His published works include nine books, including Ski and Snow Country: The Golden Years of Skiing in the West, 1930s-1950s with text by skiing legend Warren Miller. Atkeson’s work appeared in National Geographic, Time, Reader’s Digest, Life, Saturday Evening Post, and Popular Photography. His image is on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Nov 23, 1957. Atkeson was named Photographer Laureate of Oregon in 1976 and his works are in the collection of several major public institutions.
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