Vashon’s Photographic Chroniclers

Oliver Van Olinda captured moments of island history. John Sage is following his lead.

  • Wednesday, July 3, 2019 12:09pm
  • News

Nearly 130 years ago, Oliver Van Olinda came to Vashon from the Great Plains of Nebraska and began photographing Vashon Island in the 1890s. His photographs capture the everyday life of the island — the shipyards, the farms, the events and the people. These photographs have become an invaluable and cherished record of who we were and what life on the island was like.

Much of what we know about Vashon comes from this photographic record. We have newspapers, diaries and memories from that time, but photographs often give an uncensored and unfiltered image of what life was like. In many photographs, the background is as significant as the subject, and the clothing and ephemera in the photograph often tell us fascinating details about the times.

The May 11, 1901 photograph of the wedding of Margaret Sherman and Oliver’s brother Charles Van Olinda was taken at Portage where Charles owned the Portage Store. The photograph shows Oliver on the right holding the squeeze bulb and cable that allowed him to take the photograph with him in it. This was an early form of the shutter timer that allows the photographer time to get into the picture.

Today, in the early 21st century, Vashon has another Oliver Van Olinda who is chronicling the island and capturing the people and events that will help future historians define us a hundred plus years in the future.

John Sage offers thousands of photographs of everything Vashon — from high school sports to concerts to the Strawberry Festival Parade on his website. The photograph by Rheagan Sparks, taken at last year’s Strawberry Festival Parade captures John at work in his bright yellow shirt as he chronicles Vashon events.

While John has been collecting and displaying Vashon photographs for over 30 years, there are others who are also chronicling Vashon. The Facebook site, “Visual Delights on Vashon,” offers a collection of photographs by both professionals and amateurs who post the interesting things they find that are visually delightful on the island. The group “Photographers of Vashon” has been doing the same for nearly a decade. And there are numerous professional and amateur photographers who have exhibits at various galleries on the island so we can all see the work they are doing.

Vashon has an amazing collection of artists, musicians, writers, actors, poets, dancers and photographers who thankfully help us chronicle who we are through their various mediums.

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