Nature Photography: A Family Affair

Umbrella blind set up at gnatcatcher’s nest. William L. and Irene Finley standing by cholla cactus. Arizona, 1910. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A0063.

Umbrella blind set up at gnatcatcher’s nest. William L. and Irene Finley standing by cholla cactus. Arizona, 1910.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A0063.

William Finley and Herman Bohlman were not the only ones behind the camera. In the Finley household, photography was a family affair.  This month’s installment of the Reuniting Finley and Bohlman series looks at the close involvement Irene and the Finley children had in the later years of William Finley’s work.

Nellie Irene Barnhard met Finley when both were students at the University of California. The couple married in 1906 and moved to Oregon, where William had purchased a plot of land south of Portland at Jennings Lodge, a site that had long been a favorite for his wildlife photography and collecting.  Their family expanded quickly in those early years with the birth of Phoebe Katherine in 1907 and William Jr. in 1908.

Mrs. Irene Finley climbing up a rock face with photography equipment on her back. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A1327.

Mrs. Irene Finley climbing up a rock face with photography equipment on her back.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A1327.

Not even the move, home construction, and the birth of two children was enough to slow the Finleys down. As Herman Bohlman began taking on greater responsibility in his family plumbing business and spending less time in the field, Irene Finley stepped in as William’s field partner. She contributed significantly to the manuscript of American Birds, William Finley’s first book, which was published in 1907. Over the course of their careers, William and Irene co-authored two additional books, Little Blue Bird (1915) and Wild Animal Pets (1928), along with a number of articles. During that time, Irene began selling articles published under her own byline in addition to being a regular fixture in the field and an active Audubon Society member.

William L, Irene, Phoebe Katherine, and William L. Jr. wading in the Santa Cruz River. Arizona, 1910. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A0065.

William L, Irene, Phoebe Katherine, and William L. Jr. wading in the Santa Cruz River.
Arizona, 1910.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A0065.

The Finley children also had a role in this era, often serving as models holding the birds for their parents to photograph. The young family took its first major photography expedition through the Sonoran Desert of Arizona in 1910. The trip was just the first of many in what became a career of promoting popular nature lectures and films across the country.

Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, the Finleys formed a close working relationship with the American Nature Association and Nature Magazine, regularly contributing images and articles. William Finley was appointed as the magazine’s naturalist and lecturer in 1925. During this era, Arthur Pack, associate editor for the magazine, often joined the Finleys on expeditions to film and photograph the natural wonders of the American west. During trips ranging from Alaska to Arizona, Pack became a fixture of the family. This closeness was solidified by Pack’s marriage to Phoebe Finley in 1936.

In a 1946 letter to William Finley in honor of his 70th birthday, Arthur Pack wrote the following tribute to Irene and her contributions to their partnership:

You have had always a partner in your enterprise, Bill, who has never failed you. There has always been a by-line on your pictures, “By William L. and Irene Finley”, and I know you would wish her to share with you this token of appreciation from your fellow leaders in the cause to which both of you have dedicated your years. Your deeds are hers, and hers are yours.[1]

Two young palmer thrashers perched on Irene Finely’s shoulder. Arizona, 1910. OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A0227.

Two young palmer thrashers perched on Irene Finely’s shoulder.
Arizona, 1910.
OHS Research Library, Org. Lot 369, Finley A0227.

Learn More

To see more, be sure to check up on 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.

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

Oregon Historical Society Logo

Oregon State University Logo

 

 

 

[1] William L. Finley Letters and Scrapbook, Mss 2654, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

This entry was posted in Finley, Main Page. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *