Daily Art Moment: William H. Walker

Image description: The New Year’s Edition (of the Oregonian), William H Walker, gelatin silver print, image 7 x 8 3/4 inches, sheet 7 1/16 x 9 ¼ inches. This black and white photograph depicts a newspaper vendor and customers at an outdoor newsstand on the sidewalk of a rainy street. At center right, a makeshift table holds mounds of large rolls of newspaper broadsheets. Three oversized broadsheets hang from the table and are half the length of the figure bent over the table. The figure, standing at the photo’s center, wears long dark overcoat and trousers with a hat. Behind them and to the left stands another figure, again in dark clothing and hat. The newsstand sits on the angled sidewalk which runs from the lower right to the upper left of the photo. Further down the sidewalk at far left is a streetlamp and another newsstand table heaped with rolled papers. In the distance, at far left another dark clad figure approaches. The background appears misty and the sidewalk shines with the fallen rain. At right, the hazy outline of buildings across the street are just discernible.

Curiously, this photograph is one of only two in the Museum’s permanent collection that includes “New Year” in its title. Made by Portland-based photographer Will Walker, it depicts people selling and purchasing copies of the New Year’s Day 1918 edition of The Oregonian. Thanks to @multnomahcountylibrary and its online research resources, I looked through the 75-page newspaper, which sold that day for five cents. It was filled with hundreds—yes, hundreds!—of photographs illustrating articles about Oregon soldiers serving in the Great War, the state’s bountiful agricultural resources, a robust shipbuilding industry, and the beauty of the Columbia River Highway. It also informed readers that the nine daily trains between Portland and Seattle were reduced to three because of flooding, and New York City residents faced daytime high temperatures of minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit during a deadly cold snap. After a very rainy December 31 in Portland, the city reached a high of 55 degrees on the day Walker made this photograph, which helps explain the wet sidewalks and soft, foggy atmosphere.

The January 1 edition of The Oregonian reflected on the recent past through words and photographs, but could only predict what might unfold in 1918. One editor foresaw an end to the Great War by 1920, and no one yet knew of the looming influenza pandemic. Its first cases would be recorded in Kansas that winter.

Although more than 100 years have passed since the day this photograph was made, we still can’t predict what the future will hold for us, but together we can hope and work for a healthier, more peaceful, and just year for all.

Julia Dolan, The Minor White Curator of Photography

William H. Walker (American, active early 20th century), The New Years Edition (of The Oregonian), 1918. Gelatin silver print. Museum Purchase: Caroline Ladd Pratt Fund, 1995.37

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