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Sullivan, Parks, Wheeler, & Hawkins

George Clarence Stephenson (1859-1927)

The Oregonian, 10 Jun 1928, page 44

When the wild currant began to bloom and the Oregon maples hung out their pendant yellow-green blossoms above a woodland carpet of starry white trilliums, George C. Stephenson of Portland looked up his outing togs and extra tripod. For Mr. Stephenson is court photographer to the wild flowers, and had to be stirring early, if he was to get just the right picture of every one of the season's floral debutantes.

Photographing wild flowers may sound easy, but it is really much harder to do than to obtain attractive pictures of charming young women for the society page. True, the flowers are not fussy over the results, nor offended if the picture does not quite do them justice; but the great trouble is, they will not come to the studio, and the camera man instead must trudge to their homes. And what inconvenient spots some of them do choose!

If the flowers live in a woodland, easily reached by a trail, the task is comparatively easy, but some of them perch provokingly on a cliff, or occupy a hummock in the midst of a thick, oozy black bog. Some call for a mountain trip and others are found down by the sea. Always it is the difficult flower that beckons most alluringly, the picture that costs tired muscles that seems most valuable. Sometimes the commonest of the wild flowers are not the easiest to photograph.

"I worked three seasons over the field daisy before I got just the composition I wanted," says Mr. Stephenson. "Something was always wrong. Either the lighting was not quite right, or things showed up in the picture that I had not noticed at the time, or the wind made trouble by moving the flower slightly. But at last I found just the group I wanted, and got it at the time when the blossoms were perfect. It was worth waiting for.

For many years Mr. Stephenson has made a hobby of photography, spending his holidays out with a camera and his evenings under the light of a ruby lamp. It was not until some four years ago, however, that he became interested in wild flower pictures. It was his friend, the late M. W. Gorman, a distinguished botanist and lover of the outdoors, who first suggested that he try his skill on the Oregon flowers. The two men made many expeditions together, with the Mazamas or the Trails club, or with smaller parties of congenial friends. Together they roamed the hills west of Portland, or prospected the nearby roadsides and river banks that could be reached in Sunday afternoon stroll. All these trips have their pictorial record in the collection of really remarkable photographs and colored slides that Mr. Stephenson now owns.

The making of lantern slides is an interest that grew out of the flower photography. The first slides made were for the Girl Scouts of Portland, who use them in studying the nature requirements for the tree and wild flower badges. The Scouts have to find and take notes on the trees and flowers as they grow, but troop leaders say that seeing the lantern slides stimulates the girls interest in the outdoor things and helps in identification. Mr. Stephenson also has a set of slides for his won use and is constantly adding to this set. Some of these are in black and white, others are tinted carefully by hand, using whenever possible the blossom itself as a model in order to get the colors accurate.

The Oregonian, 18 Apr 1940, page 11

Victim of paralytic stroke, George C. Stephenson, 2060 Northwest Vaughn street, is recovering in Good Samaritan hospital, it was reported Wednesday. Mr. Stephenson is widely known for his pictures and colored slides of flowers and Oregon scenery. Many of his photographs have been used in the Oregonian Farm, Home and Garden. He has also provided pictures to illustrate various books on flowers and trees.


The Oregon Sunday Journal, 21 April 1940, Section 2, page 3

George C. Stephenson, 74, a Portland resident 55 years and widely known amateur photographer, died unexpectedly early Saturday in Good Samaritan hospital. He suffered a stroke a week ago, but was thought to be improving and relatives had planned to take him home Saturday afternoon. A second stroke caused his death.

Mr. Stephenson had been employed at the Portland Iron works more than 50 years. He was active in the Trails and Mazama clubs and was official photographer for the Portland Garden Club. Mr. Stephenson's photographs were used to illustrate Willard A. Eliot's book, "Forest Trees of the Pacific Coast."

Surviving are his wife, Mary E. Stephenson; two children, Mrs. I. R. Steigerwald and C. B. Stephenson; two sisters, Mrs. J. A. Martin and Sadie Stephenson, and a brother, D. H. Stephenson, all of Portland.

Funeral services will be arranged with Edward Holman & Son, and burial will be in Riverview cemetery.

Sometimes this is impossible, as a gathered flower may wither and change color before the finished slide is ready to tint. So the method used is to make a careful diagram of the flower, noting the various colors or shades by name. These color names are the same as those found in "Ridgway's Color Chart," a standard color book used throughout the country by commercial designers.

When the colorist who paints the slides receives this notebook diagram she consults the color book and reproduces the shades pictured there under the corresponding names. A remarkable degree of accuracy is possible in this way.

A fairly simple photographic equipment goes with Mr. Stephenson on these trips of his. For most flower pictures he uses a 4 by 5 camera, carrying cut film; for faster work a different type of plate is used.

In photographing yellow a color screen is necessary as yellow photographs black and looks unnatural in the finished picture. Taken with the screen, the yellows appear light colored. Red does not screen out, and when a picture of a holly branch with berries and leaves was wanted for a slide Mr. Stephenson hit upon the ingenious idea of photographing a yellow-berried holly, instead of the familiar scarlet-fruited kind. Taken with a color screen, the berries came out light and not black, and it was possible to color them in the finished slide with the old traditional red of Yuletide.

Sometimes a flower is hard to separate from its background; that is, the rocks or foliage are too much the same tone to give the desired contrast. So for such emergencies the kit contains a ready-to-wear background in the form of a sheet of fairly heavy paper of a neutral shade. This is unrolled, slipped in behind the flower group, and the picture-taking proceeds.

The Columbia gorge is one of the favorite hunting grounds of this flower enthusiast, and most of the flower-decked mountain valleys of the Mount Hood region have been visited by him. A recent trip up the Columbia highway resulted in some exquisite pictures of the spring flower display in the Mosler district where the grass widows, yellow bells and delicate nodding glacier lilies cover the ground in March.

One trip with a party of friends took Mr. Stephenson up to the summit of Mount Adams. Most people who have climbed Mount Adams, with or without 20 pounds of photographic equipment, are rather proud of the feat but Mr. Stephenson looks back at it only with regret.

"I don't know why I wasted all that day going up the mountain," he says, "for when I got back to timber line it was too late to get the flowers. I'm going again this year, and I'd like to see anybody make me climb past the flower fields.

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