An Ice Ax, A Camera, and A Jar of Peanut Butter. Ira Spring. The Mountaineers Books: Seattle, 1998. 283 photos. 240 pages. $24.95.
In 1930, the Eastman Kodak Company’s Centennial Celebration gift to all 12-year-olds was a Kodak Box Brownie camera. Twins Ira and Bob Spring were bom Christmas Eve, 1918, so they barely got in under the wire for claiming theirs at the comer drugstore. Inspired by a love of the outdoors gained through their parents, Ira and Bob were soon snapping black-and- white photos of local hills and valleys with these simple cardboard cameras. But upon reaching maturity with more sophisticated Speed Graphics that exposed 4" x 5" sheet film and film-pack, the twins embarked on photographic careers.
Ira Spring’s numerous photo contributions to various newspaper rotogravure sections, travel and outdoor magazines, and hikers’ guidebooks are well-known to Northwest hikers and travelers, but here is a well-illustrated document of his life of mountain photography and observations from travels around the globe. Richly presented is the essence of his life, from his childhood and youth in the timber community of Shelton, to his first photography with the Box Brownie, to graduation into military camera work in the Southwestern Pacific during World War II and subsequent professional career and world-wide travels with camera.
I first met Ira at Paradise Valley on Mount Rainier in the summer of 1941, when he ran the concessionaire’s photo shop at Paradise Valley. There he got his exercise by racing ahead of my guided parties heading for the famed Paradise Glacier ice caves, setting up his camera along the way and at the cave entrances. He would then dash back to his darkroom, and by the time our parties returned, he had 8" x 10" glossies displayed—still dripping wet—for the tourists to order as mementos of their visit to the park.
After serving during World War II as photographer in the Southwestern Pacific in the Air Corps (today’s Air Force), Ira joined his brother briefly in a studio business in Seattle that specialized in baby portraits. But their interests were in the mountains, and their expertise in alpine photography soon got them commissioned work with local newspapers and eventually national magazines. In time, Ira traveled widely throughout Europe with his family, taking photos for travel magazines and ads. For a while, they resided in a chalet in the shadow of Mont Blanc, where the kids attended the local schools and learned to ski.
An Ice Ax, A Camera, and A Jar of Peanut Butter covers Ira’s adventures while photographing hikes and climbs throughout the Pacific Northwest, the Sierras and Rockies, Canadian Rockies, Alaska, the Alps, Iceland and Scandinavia, and Japan. In recent years he returned to visit some of the islanders he had photographed in the Southwestern Pacific during the war.
In subsequent years, Ira’s photos illustrated hiking guidebooks, with text by various authorities in subjects ranging from local beach hikes, wildflowers and tree species, to hikes and climbs. Most frequent among his co-authors have been Northwest notables Harvey Manning, Ruth Kirk, Byron Fish, and E.M. Sterling. Ira’s most stable income has been the royalties derived from 50 or more hiking guides to trails in the Pacific Northwest.
Ira’s photographic travels and devotion to the beauties of the Northwest have helped inspire others to join the battle to preserve the area’s scenic highlights, and his books have earned him awards during the annual Governor’s Writers Day in Olympia. He has been among the activists fighting for preserving and enhancing the trail systems leading into these wild areas, and at his own expenses he has lobbied for such measures before legislative committees in Washington, D.C. In 1992, he was among 25 people nationwide to receive from President George Bush the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Award.
It’s good to have Ira finally tell in his own words his life of world-wide travels and photography.