Giant Machinery Devours the Forest

What the Machinery Looked Like

1963, Humboldt County, California.

1963, Humboldt County, California.

 

During my life time, we have gone from celebrating the might of machinery in our domination of nature to weeping for the destruction it has caused in the midst of global warming. When my father, Harvey Richards, went into the northwest forests and lumber mills in the early 1960’s, he understood both views. As a machinist during World War II, he had installed gun turrets in war ships in the San Francisco ship yards. He knew the might of technology intimately. As a photographer of forest destruction, he carried his youthful memories of the forests of Oregon in the 1920’s into logging centers in the 1960’s. His color photos taken in 1979, shown at the end of the gallery, show the giant machines handling smaller logs as the logging industry declined after the destruction of the old growth forests. He chronicled the transformation of technology from mighty enabler to cursed destroyer.

The process of bringing these photos to the internet has been difficult. At first there was a prolonged period of discovery as I scanned hundreds of Harvey’s negatives and slides into digital formats.  Seeing the images of logged out forests, of the destruction of ancient environments was sad, to say the least. Long pauses accumulated in the scanning process as my mind processed the images and my heart gathered the strength to return to them again and again. Slowly, I began to imagine my father focusing his eye on the almost surreal images of the logging industry in these years.  I found myself inspired by his determination and vision to look into the face of these earth shattering events as he preserved them on film.

Mounting frustration propelled me to dig deeper into the mind block that keeps us locked in an economy that would sacrifice old growth forests for paper towels to use once in our kitchens and then throw away. The absurdity of this cycle is staggering. Our awareness, or lack of awareness, seems to be the glue that locks us into this wasteful economy. In the 1960’s, when I first saw these images, I was awed by the immensity of the giant log handling equipment. Today, awe has given way to depression and repulsion, or anger and frustration, or all of it. The changes in my responses over the decades first to the promise and then to the curse of technology leaves me wondering why it took me so long to understand it. I am still wondering when will humanity awaken to the news. One thing is certain, the images cannot be ignored or forgotten.

Buddhists say invest in loss.  To me, this provides a reason to look into the sad historical legacy in these photos. We can’t stop the cycle of waste and economic madness until we see what it is doing and understand the reasons it must stop.  These photos help bring this process of understanding into being.


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