© Robert Landsburg, 1980, Photographer died protecting his film
In may 2012 I found a very surprising and heart-warming message on my Facebook page:
"Thanks for sharing the last photos of my friend Robert Landsburg on your blog site. Looking at your photos, your logo and shirt design I think you and Bob would have hit it off very well. Tomorrow, today, marks the 32nd anniversary of the eruption. Finding your site and your work kinda makes me feel he is still with us bringing like minded folks together. Peace." (Richard Anderson)
Thank you so much for these kind words Richard, I can’t tell you how much they mean to me. I never expected a reaction like that when I first posted the work of your friend Robert Landsburg. As many others I was impressed by his story, how the commitment to his passion still stood strong in the last breaths of life. Unlike many photographers who try to play to the gallery, he gave the last full measure of devotion to save the film so his photos could make it to the gallery (if this wordplays don’t make any sense please excuse me, it’s not my native language, I just can’t help it sometimes).
Richard, thanks for reminding me of the 32nd anniversary of the eruption, and also for giving me the chance to share this story with a broader audience. May your friend rest in peace.
Here is an excerpt of the original story published in the National Geographic magazine:
"It was the event of a lifetime, this eruption of Mount St. Helens that had begun on March 27. That’s what Robert Landsburg decided, and the 48-year-old photographer from Portland, Oregon, undertook to document it with his camera.
During April and early May he made a dozen trips to the vicinity of the mountain, hiking and climbing to various vantage points. The morning of May 18 found him once more near the volcano, seeking “just one more” eruption sequence to round out his coverage.
When the mountain exploded, he already had his camera on a tripod, aimed and cocked. As the all-engulfing cloud of ash climbed the sky toward him, four miles from the summit, he desperately cranked frames frames across his lens, the rewound the film into its cassette inside the camera, wrenched the camera from its tripod, and stowed it in a pack. His wallet was in the pack too - perhaps to assure future identification.
Seventeen days later his body was found in the ash, together with the film that he bought with his life. It contained not only telling images of the killing edge of the blast but also the scratches, bubbles, warpings, and light leaks caused by heat and ash, the very thumbprint of holocaust.” (National Geographic, Jan. 1981)
When Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, photographer Robert Landsburg was documenting the changes in the volcano from just a few miles away. Realizing that he couldn’t possibly outrun the approaching ash cloud, he kept shooting for as long as he could before using his body to preserve his film:
He managed to rewind the film back into its case, replace his camera in its bag, put the bag in his backpack, and then lay himself on top of the backpack in an attempt to protect its contents. Seventeen days later, Landsburg’s body was found buried in the ash with his backpack underneath. The film could be developed and has provided geologists with valuable documentation of the historic eruption.
The photos were published in the January 1981 issue of National Geographic.
If the link shouldn’t work you can download the scans here.