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Celebrating Terry Skibby: A Life with Camera

Terry Skibby most often views the world through the lens of a Nikon 35mm SLR. He is a familiar face around town, always carrying a big backpack with a camera and binoculars around his neck. Sometimes, he stands still for hours, camera at the ready, just waiting for something to happen.

Skibby has taken thousands and thousands of photographs of Ashland over the course of 73 years. Now, his photographs are being preserved in the Southern Oregon Digital Archives at Southern Oregon University’s Hannon Library. The Terry Skibby Photograph Collection will be formally launched during an event from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, in the Meese Room of the library.

In addition to recognizing Skibby and the new digital collection, the event will honor Ashland’s historic commissioners and planning staff, as well as architects and designers who have made historic preservation a core aspect of their work. The celebration is the kickoff event of Ashland’s Heritage Preservation Week.

Brian Terry Skibby was born in Ashland in 1945 and received his first camera as a young boy, a birthday or Christmas present — he says he doesn’t remember which. The camera, though, he recalls vividly: a plastic Brownie Holiday Flash Kodak camera. Since that day, Skibby has had a camera at hand almost every waking hour and has photographed much of Ashland.

“It’s in my blood. My parents and brothers all took pictures,” Skibby says. “I like documenting my environment.”

As a young man, Skibby photographed Ashland High School and Southern Oregon College sports events for the Ashland Tidings and was an independent photographer with studio space in several downtown Ashland locations. SOU is scanning Skibby’s vast collection, selecting representative images for the digital archives. Any given set of images may be an assortment of 4-by-5-inch medium-sized negatives, 110-size or 126-size strips, 35mm negative film, prints ranging from 4-by-6-inches to 9-by-12-inches and digital images on CD, cloud and flash drives. Each negative is scanned at 1,200 to 9,600 dpi and saved in .tiff format, and each image is researched as to history and location.

While Skibby’s go-to camera today is the 35mm Nikon SLR, he’s also used a Graflex 4x5 press camera, and Rolleiflex and Yashica Twin Lens Reflex cameras. He’s also used medium format cameras such as the Kowa Six, Mamiya RB67 and RZ67, Pentacon Six and other 35mm film cameras such as Nikon F and F6, Leica M4 & M5, Contax Ma, Ax, RTS, Minolta and an Exakta. Skibby still has every camera he has ever used.

“I like photographing architecture, especially historic buildings and street scenes, artifacts and glassware, antiques, nature including birds, insects, clouds, the moon, scenic; also sports, candids, trucks and buses and trains and anything that looks interesting,” Skibby says. “I like taking pictures.”

Much of Skibby’s work is of architectural details: the commercial structures that line the streets, 100-year-old homes that still stand today or are now gone. Skibby also has diligently photographed the buildings destined for removal and redevelopment and has captured the detail of historic residential and commercial structures that are considered for modification by Ashland’s Historic Commission. Perhaps of greatest interest are the countless photos he has taken of Ashland’s streets, familiar vistas and landmarks, and every phase of the downtown Plaza.

Skibby has photographed odd moments in local history that most will have no memory of. There’s the Ashland National Guard’s riot-control training in the 1960s; an undocumented Klamath Falls stop of the 1976 Freedom Train; the Plaza, rundown in the mid-1970s before Bluebird Park; the 1990 installation of the Chautauqua Square Fountain and its 2015 demolition; the 1974 and 1997 floods; Rondo Bowling Lanes and leagues; Lance and Annette Pugh’s Lithia Grocery; Tom and Pat Greenlee’s downtown sweet shop; and the Crazy Bear Intertribal Society meetup.

Skibby and others like him who are passionate about heritage preservation were central to the formation of Ashland’s Historic Commission, galvanized into action when the E.K. Anderson House was demolished in the mid-1970s. He was involved in the designation of Ashland’s Historic Districts, the preservation of the Ashland Public Library’s Carnegie Building in 1999 and the restoration of many historic properties, faithfully documenting each significant event. Skibby has served either as commissioner or chair of the Ashland Historic Commission since 1989, and his heritage preservation work was recognized in 1996 with Ashland’s James Ragsland Volunteer Award.

“I think the Southern Oregon Digital Archives collection of my photos is great,” he says. “It not only preserves many of my lifetime photos, but preserves a period of Ashland’s history that would have been otherwise lost.”

The ever-growing digital collection of Skibby’s photographs can be viewed in the Southern Oregon Digital Archives at http://soda.sou.edu/stories. The project is funded in part by the Oregon Heritage Commission, the Institute for Museum and Library Services through the Oregon State Library and the Jackson County Cultural Coalition.

For more information on the Southern Oregon Digital Archives and the Skibby event, call 541-552-6442. Call the city of Ashland’s Community Development Department at 541-488-5305 for more information on the Historic Preservation Awards ceremony and other Heritage Preservation Week activities.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com

Looking east on Main Street from Ashland Plaza circa 1960s. (Photo by Terry Skibby)
Terry Skibby next to the Peerless Hotel, giving a tour in the Historic District’s Railroad Park. (Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella)