Local photographer captures history through elevator photos

Photographer sees grain elevators as unique opportunities for artistic expression

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Local photographer captures history through elevator photos

MADISON WILLIAMS, Evergreen reporter

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Dennis Witmer sees more than just storage space in the grain elevators that dot the Palouse.

Witmer, a landscape photographer, realizes the importance of the equipment and sees its functions and role in people’s daily lives.

Driving down the Palouse, Witmer took an interest in the grain elevators and decided to find each one in Whitman County. He found 62 sites, home to both working and inoperative elevators, and captured them through photos that are now on display in the Colfax Museum.

He grew up on a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, so he is familiar with grain elevators. He quoted Ronald Reagan, saying, “If you have seen one wheat field, you have seen them all.”

Witmer remembers his days on the farm growing grain and notices differences in the elevators then versus now.

“It is interesting how they are evolving,” he said. “Now it is common to see steel tanks, and that wasn’t a thing when I was growing up.”

He did not want to work in grain storage his whole life and he enjoyed writing. He pursued this passion, but found it was harder than he thought.

“When I found the time to write down an idea in my head,” he said, “the words just did not sit right on the page.”

He said he found it easier to tell a story through a picture.

“What I like about taking pictures is that you don’t have to know what you are doing,” he said, “and later, the picture forms meaning.”

Witmer had been taking landscape pictures for a long time when he met his wife. He told her, “If we get married, you can never tell me to stop taking pictures.”
Her job as a wildlife biologist led her and Witmer to Alaska. They spent 26 years in Alaska and moved to Spokane in 2012.

Witmer and a local historian met at the Colfax Library last spring while a different exhibit was being set up. The historian mentioned Witmer’s photos and published photo books to the library director, Kristie Kirkpatrick. The library now holds over 60 of Witmer’s grain elevator pictures.

“They are part of a landscape that Witmer brings to life in the new exhibit,” Kirkpatrick said.

All through September and October, Witmer’s pictures can be found in The Center at the Colfax Museum. The exhibit is named “The Grain Elevators of Whitman County,” and is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.