Windows in Time

Linda Burton posting from Olympia, Washington – “You should get together with that blond lady that’s staying here,” Mae told me as she took my ticket and greeted me in the breakfast room every morning. “She knows everything about the history of Olympia. You two should talk.” But we kept missing each other, until finally the planets aligned and we wound up having breakfast at the same time. “You must be the person writing about capital cities,” she said, standing beside my table with a cup of coffee in hand. “And you must be the blond lady that knows everything about Olympia,” I replied. “Please sit down.” The “blond lady” I’d finally met is Susan Parish, and the ensuing conversation led me to believe she not only knows the history of Olympia, she has a photograph of most of it. She’s staying at the Governor Hotel now because she’s commissioned to “recreate the history of the hotel” through researching the art and times of the hotel’s early days, now being remodeled to capture the look of its beginnings, the 1970’s. As we walked through the newly renovated rooms on the upper floors, Susan showed me the photographs she is installing, and told me more of her work.

“I’m a photographer and a writer,” Susan said, “but I’m a collector too. I started collecting photos back in the 50’s. So now I define myself as a photo historian.” Her career is impressive – newspaper columnist, editor, Arts Program Designer and Director, Visitor Services Director, and, especially interesting to me, Exhibit Creator and Curator at the Washington State Capitol where her work in historical research and preservation helped create several historic preservation laws, and helped establish Washington State’s Photo Archives.

We stopped alongside a sepia-toned framed photograph of a man proudly holding up two fish. “That’s former Governor Al Rossellini,” she said. “We’re using photos of former Washington state governors in the hotel rooms. There is one of Governor Arthur Langlie strolling across the Capitol Campus and one of Governor Dan Evans sitting in a barber’s chair reading a Playboy magazine. We want the decor to be interesting and a little fun too. “

Susan specialized in black and white photography for most of her career, but has added digital color photographs now; those seem to be favorites of interior designers. Photographs she has made, or collected, are published in over 100 publications and installed in over 3,000 locations in public, commercial, and private collections internationally. “I named my new business Shadow Catchers,” Susan told me, as she jotted down the address of her website for me. “Shadow catchers is the name American Indians reportedly called photographers in the 1840’s. Because they believed their shadows, or spirit, would be captured within the large black camera boxes, many of them refused to be photographed. Actually, most people were afraid of cameras back then.

“I think of photographic images as “time travel” mechanisms, and that’s one reason I am dedicated to preserving these visual remnants of time for this and future generations. Photographs cross all language, age, and political boundaries and barriers. They tell stories. If eyes are windows to the soul, then I say photographs are windows in time. I am thrilled with the technology available now. I am able to restore historic images that haven’t been viewed since the photographer made them. That’s exciting!”

“Mae was right,” I thought as I finally headed back to my room. “That was a good talk. Windows in Time; I like that idea.”

About Shadow Catchers and The Susan Parish Collection of Photography. Susan Parish, Photo Historian, 360-349-9549,

About the Governor Hotel, 621 S Capitol Way, Olympia, WA, Sandra Miller, General Manager,