John Tylczak: The Northwoods Photographic Project

For the month of October, we are very pleased to feature an exhibition of photographs by John Tylczak in the Forest Club Room! Tylczak (pronounced tile-zack) grew up in Shelton, Wash., where four generations of his family have lived since 1885; his grandfather, in fact, was the executor of Agnes Anderson’s estate. The black-and-white portraits he is sharing with us come from his broader collection, Views from the Northwoods: 1983-1995, which captures the faces of the Washington timber industry in the mid-1980s and early 1990s—an age of great change and transition in the logging community, from vastly shrinking workforces to more mechanized production.

John Tylczak

John Tylczak’s family has lived around Shelton, Wash., for four generations.

Tylczak says he first felt the power of photography in 1978 when he was in graduate school studying American social history at the University of Connecticut. “There was a rainy, cold day, and I was feeling kind of homesick,” he says, so he headed a few miles down the road to the neighboring town of Willimantic. He wandered into a bookstore and came across Dave Bohn’s newly released book of Darius Kinsey’s photographs. Kinsey (1869-1945) was famous for his photographs of loggers and the virgin timberland of western Washington from 1890 to 1940. The scenes were immensely familiar to Tylczak, whose own family had arrived in the area only a few years before Kinsey got to work in Sedro-Woolley.

“I just sat on the floor and gazed through those magnificent images for maybe an hour,” says Tylczak. “It relieved my homesickness, but it also opened a window to realizing how important photographers are to understanding our history.”

John Tylczak

Taken in 1988, one of the photos in Tylczak’s collection.

That experience helped shape Tylczak’s passion and career, and through the years he worked on a number of long-term photo collections, including Views from the Northwoods, which took him more than a decade to complete and includes more than 1,500 large-format images. When he started the project in 1983, he had set out to photographically re-explore the timber industry of western Washington and create a historical record of what the industry really looked like during that time period.

Part of what makes the collection so special is that Tylczak had nearly total access to forest roads and timber operations; he would often simply stroll up to a mill or field site and ask permission to photograph the workers—and was almost always welcomed. The results are an incredibly intimate, unvarnished reflection of the logging community, from the fallers and rigging crews, to loaders and transport workers, to log scalers and mill workers.

Tylczak is still active in photography and has several other ongoing collections, including photographing abandoned railroad trestles. He currently teaches graphic design and photography at Governor John R. Rogers High School in Puyallup, Wash., and we very much appreciate his generosity in sharing some of his wonderful portraits with our school.

The exhibition will be on display in the Forest Club Room and available for viewing during normal business hours in Anderson Hall (8 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.). Come out and take a look this October!

Photos © John Tylczak.

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