The Photographers of Anacortes


The history of this land has been told in many ways. The glacially sculpted cliffs of Mt. Erie conjure time-lapses of generations of glacial movement, long before the feet of people touched this land. The stories of the Coast Salish people, passed down orally from parent to child, catalog history since time immemorial. Maps drawn by 18th-century explorers highlight distorted early ideas of what the region might look like from a bird’s eye view. These preservations and more paint colorful, but imperfect portraits of what our home looked like before it was called Anacortes. At the advent of Anacortes proper, there was another technology present. One that had the ability to capture a near-perfect simulacrum of any moment in time. Photography, arguably more than anything else, has informed our historic idea of what Anacortes was and therefore, our cultural idea of what Anacortes is. Our latest exhibit, The Photographers of Anacortes: A Developing Timeline, examines the history and evolution of this art form, whilst simultaneously examining our own evolution as a small sea-side community. 

The influence that historic photographs hold on over our culture should be immediately obvious to anyone who walks around town - the walls of our buildings are literally adorned with Bill Mitchell's murals based on historic Anacortes photos. The first proper publication of historic photos was probably Glenn Davis' reproduction of 125 historic images of Anacortes in the early days. These became the Anacortes Museum’s premier exhibit, 1958's Pioneer Pictures. This exhibit brought Anacortes’ creation myth to the public eye, one of intrepid dreamers building a city in the wilderness with great dreams of becoming “The New York of the West.” For the first time ever, people were transported into a stunningly vivid simulation of what life was like for their ancestors from a generation ago. 

Today that photo collection has grown from those original 125 to over 75,000 - including photos from the premier of that first-ever exhibit! With these added photos comes a far more comprehensive knowledge of our history, one that we are excited to share with you through this new exhibit! You can enjoy this exhibit online, or through our physical display at the Museum's Carnegie Building. 

While exploring, we invite you to ponder on the impact of photography on your understanding of your own history. As we curate photo's to tell the story of Anacortes, billions are simultaneously curating their own histories through social media accounts and an increasingly integrated relationship between the physical and digital world. What will be the important photos of today for the people 50 years from now? Where or who will they come from? In the 150 years of photography covered in this exhibit, Anacortes goes from a world of black and white to color, physical to digital. How will the next 150 years pan out? Perhaps photography will be as antiquated as paintings on the walls of a cave, or perhaps it won't. We'll have to wait and see.

Choose an Era to Explore!

First Photographers

Early 20th Century V3

Mid Century V3

Modern Photographers