Harley Cowan’s “Manhattan Project”

Written By Mary Thomas


A customer of ours made a brilliant series of photos at the Hanford Reservation, a decommissioned nuclear production site in Washington.


Although Harley Cowan‘s Rollieflex is what goes with him everywhere, these photographs were made on his Sinar F2 4×5. He began shooting large format about four years ago and came across his first historical documentation-style project when he was taking a large format landscape class from Ray Bidegain. He contacted the Heritage Documentation Program, which catalogs historic properties, wondering if they were interested in a photograph he took of a house on Sauvie Island. They were. He donated the photo and then got thinking about other historic properties that are under-documented or not well represented.



Things really opened up for him when the architectural firm he was with at the time announced that it was offering a research fellowship. They wanted proposals that drew from the idea of “emerging technologies”. Harley instead approached them with a medium from the past: film. He emphasized the importance of consistency with archiving and recording history and got the fellowship.

From there he recalled the property he grew up near, the Hanford Reservation, which was one of the newest national parks and therefore not yet well-documented. After a lot of work getting the right permissions and (accidentally) running into the right people, Harley was allowed to spend a week at the site photographing every corner.


Harley says that doing work like this is sort of an escape. He loves finding a place that has a history to it and running off for a few days to catalog and discover everything about it. We think it’s great that Harley has combined his architectural work and interest in history with his passion for photography to create something unique.

Find the complete project at Harley’s website http://harleycowan.com