Images through the ages: Argus photographer shows local history
Michal Thompson has likely attended more city council meetings, more high school sporting events and more Fourth of July parades than anyone in Hillsboro.
Thompson, staff photographer for the Hillsboro Argus newspaper for more than 30 years, has put together a career retrospective of his photos for an exhibit at the Hillsboro Brookwood Library in July and August.
The exhibit comes just four months after the Argus ceased its print publication in March.
Thompson, 70, retired in 2013 and began thinking about putting together a career retrospective of some sort. In December 2016, he submitted an application to show his work at the Hillsboro Brookwood Library, thinking he'd have some time to prepare.
He turned in the application, walked into the library's reading room to get some work done — and a short time later the library's strategic initiative manager Carol Reich found him and asked, "Can you have it ready for July?"
The photos on display range from when Thompson was an amateur learning about photography — a Marine gunnery sergeant in 1969 told him to grab a camera and go learn how to use it — to early career photos from short stints at newspapers in Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois and Missouri (four jobs in four years was too many, he says), to shots from his 33-year career at the Argus.
Thompson came to Oregon in 1980 from Illinois, where he'd been working for a small newspaper. He accepted the job at the Argus over the phone, never having been to Oregon before. He was struck by Oregon's beauty, driving through the Columbia River Gorge and into Hillsboro with its "towering fir trees," he recalls.
On his first trip to the Oregon Coast, he stopped at a pay phone in Cannon Beach, called his then-girlfriend, Alice, and asked her to come to Oregon and marry him. She did and today the couple has three grown children and three grandsons.
Many of the Argus photos in Thompson's exhibit are from the 1980s — what he considers the "zenith" of Hillsboro's twice-weekly newspaper.
All but one of the photos are black and white.
On the job, he photographed a range of events and subjects — from governors' visits to Forest Grove's annual fall corn roast (one of his first assignments when he arrived on the job) to many, many Hillsboro Fourth of July parades.
He's covered six different presidents. Barack Obama's visit to Intel in 2011 was the only presidential visit to Hillsboro. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both came to Portland on the eve of the 1980 presidential election.
As a U.S. Marine, Thompson covered Richard Nixon's visit to Hawaii.
Thompson remembers a brisk trek through a town in Oklahoma where Carter walked — impromptu — from a church where he had just given a speech to a home
he was visiting.
Along the route, Thompson was told by Secret Service personnel to "keep moving, you can't stop. It was hard trying to keep up with the long-legged president" while wielding a camera and trying to take photos, Thompson recalls. The Secret Service agent told him, "Man, you gotta get in shape."
Photojournalism, Thompson says, "gives you so much access to so many different facets of life."
He's photographed a brain surgery on a patient with epilepsy at Oregon Health and Science University, as well as a corneal transplant.
"I had to cut the brain surgery short," Thompson said. "I was due in Salem. (Gov. Vic) Atiyeh was declaring photojournalism day" at the capital.
His favorite subjects, he says, are "the elderly and kids. Once they get used to you there with a camera, they don't care what they look like," making for fun, spontaneous shots.
His secret to success, he says, was "always looking for something you hadn't seen before, a different angle. You doom yourself if you're looking for something specific."
Through it all, though, Thompson loved the idea of small-town community photojournalism, capturing "slices of life. I tried to put a spin on things that (normally) wouldn't be noticed," he says.
After the exhibit comes down at the end of August, Thompson will donate the collection to the Washington County Museum.