The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1973, Volume 19, Number 1
James E. Moss, Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

The Pacific Coast. Photography by Ray Atkeson and text by Calvin Kentfield. Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1971. 136 pages. $25.00.

Reviewed by Earl Pomeroy, Professor of History at the University of Oregon and one of the most respected interpreters of the American West. Among Professor Pomeroy’s many publications are: The Territories and the United States, 1861-1890: Studies in Colonial Administration (1947 & 1969); In Search of the Golden West: The Tourist in Western America (1957); and The Pacific Slope: A History of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada (1965).

Ray Atkeson came to Oregon in 1927, was a commercial photographer in Portland for seventeen years, and since 1946 has been doing free-lance work. Over the last twenty-five years he has been publishing collections of photographs of Oregon and Washington, and more recently (1970, with David Muench) of California. Until now all but one of his books (issued by U. S. Camera) appeared in small editions through Northwestern publishers, getting little advertising though much appreciation. Now a Middle Western house with a larger list has issued a volume of his photographs of the three coastal states and British Columbia.

While more attractive than most of the more widely sold collections, the result is not so impressive as Atkeson’s earlier work or the Sierra Club’s books. One might not notice slight defects in reproduction without a strong light: colors not matching in some photographs split between facing pages, flecks in the skies, and lines of color along the edges. Some photographs lack sharpness, and one is not likely to pause over the urban landscapes as over the views of natural scenery.

The text, a descriptive account of the region by Calvin Kentfield, a novelist from Stinson Beach, is informative and well written, though it does not contribute to the kind of unity that the Sierra Club’s editors have achieved by supporting their photographs with, for instance, verse, polemic, and extracts from the writings of John Muir. Perhaps this is because of the region itself, or series of regions, and thus the photographs offer too much variety to be represented easily in one book. The shorter texts in most of Atkeson’s other books seem much more closely related (and properly subordinated to the photographs), particularly those by Atkeson himself, as in his Northwest Heritage: The Cascade Range (1969). There may be no more attractive book on the coast as a whole, but for photographs and for cumulative effect The Pacific Coast does not have the impact of Oregon (1968), Northwest Heritage, and Oregon Coast (1972).