Herman Bohlman, the Man Behind the Lens

Bohlman in a Field of Gulls

Herman T. Bohlman standing in a field with a the sky full of gulls. Klamath Marsh, 1905.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A1713.

Herman T. Bohlman sitting with young burrowing owls. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A1751.

Herman T. Bohlman sitting with young burrowing owls. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A1751.

In this month’s installment of our ongoing series, Reuniting Finley and Bohlman, about our efforts to digitize the collections of nature photographer William Finley, we shift our focus to explore the life of Herman Bohlman, Finley’s childhood friend and partner in crime on his earliest photography endeavors.

Herman Theodore Bohlman was born in Portland, Oregon on April 15, 1872. Friendship kindled between Finley and Bohlman shortly after the Finley family’s move to Portland in 1887. In high school, Bohlman and Finley’s interest in ornithology and collecting inspired them to start a side business selling biological specimens, including bird skins and eggs, to scientists and private collectors. By the late 1890s, however, the impact of over-collecting on bird populations led to a shift in public sentiment on the practice. The pair traded their collecting kit for a camera and embarked on a decade long partnership of artistic and scientific works. Between 1899 and 1908 Bohlman and Finley photographed and wrote about thousands of birds on expeditions throughout Oregon and California.

Bohlman passes Finley a glass plate as they are perched on a branch high in a tree photographing an eagle nest near Mission Peak, California, 1904. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A441.

Bohlman passes Finley a glass plate as they are perched on a branch high in a tree photographing an eagle nest near Mission Peak, California, 1904. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A441.

Of the two, Bohlman is often credited with having the more artistic eye behind the lens and some of the most iconic images to come from their collaboration bear only Bohlman’s name on the copyright. However, both men had cameras in the field and often worked in tandem to capture photographs from some truly precarious of vantage points. Bohlman’s photographs appeared in several U.S. and international publications, including Finley’s 1907 book, American Birds.

Herman Bohlman and Maud Bittleston on their wedding day in 1908. OSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Herman T. Bohlman Photograph Collection, ca. 1898-1925 (P 202)

Herman Bohlman and Maud Bittleston on their wedding day in 1908.
OSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Herman T. Bohlman Photograph Collection, ca. 1898-1925 (P 202)

Bohlman’s partnership with Finley largely came to an end in 1908 with Bohlman’s marriage to Maud Bittleston and the birth of their son, H. Theodore Bohlman. After that point, while their friendship endured, Bohlman shifted his focus to domestic responsibilities and his work within the family plumbing business. While he continued to be an active member of what would become the Oregon Audubon Society and to maintain his interest in birds, Bohlman rarely accompanied Finley into the field after marriage. He did, however, continue artistic pursuits through his love of oil painting later in life.

To see more examples of Bohlman’s photography, be sure to visit the Reuniting Finley and Bohlman Collection on Oregon Digital throughout the year as additional materials are uploaded.

This blog series is part of a yearlong partnership between the Oregon Historical Society Research Library and Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives to digitize the Finley and Bohlman photograph and manuscript collections held by our libraries and to unite them online through Oregon Digital and the OHS Digital Collections website. Stay tuned in coming months for future installments about Finley, Bohlman, and their birding adventures around the state.

Bohlman Walking with a Pelican

Herman T. Bohlman and a pelican walking side by side near Klamath Marsh, 1905. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A1796.

This project is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.Institute of Museum and Library Services Logo

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