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Book Review: Split Seconds: Four Decades of News Photography from the Pacific Northwest and Beyond by Barry Sweet

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Seattle-based photojournalist Barry Sweet has just published Split Seconds: Four Decades of News Photography from the Pacific Northwest and Beyond. The Associated Press photographer has been nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize for his work and has won a number of news-photo competitions over the years. One look through the images in this book make clear the reasons behind those honors. Sweet has an incredible eye, and many of these images capture jaw-dropping moments.

As a life-long resident of the Pacific Northwest myself, I was particularly attracted to his local photos. And these are not your typical “travelogue” pictures by any means. Sweet was there on the frontlines of major events, such as the one taken in July 1969 of soldiers returning from Vietnam. It was a parade through the streets of downtown Seattle, and the emotional reaction of one woman in particular is simply stunning. His AP photo editor compared it to some of the famous shots of soldiers returning from World War II in New York.

As a photojournalist, Sweet captured both sides of the “war at home” over Vietnam. In contrast to the grateful civilians welcoming soldiers home, there are shots of the campus demonstrations that took place all over the nation during that time.

Although Barry Sweet traveled the world for his job, there is a special focus on the Northwest in this book. With that in mind, there is a certain attraction for us locals. One example is the old Sick’s Stadium, which hosted our very first Major League Baseball team, the Seattle Pilots. They lasted exactly one season, as the owners lost so much money they sold the team – who became the Milwaukee Brewers. Sick’s Stadium is also famous for hosting Jimi Hendrix’s triumphant hometown return in 1970.

The photos are presented chronologically, from the late ’60s to the present day. There is a picture of a billboard that I have heard about all my life, but had never previously seen. During the Boeing bust years of the mid-’70s, somebody put up a billboard near the Sea-Tac Airport reading, “Will the Last Person Leaving Seattle Turn Out the Lights.”

Economically, the region rebounded mightily in the ’80s, with Microsoft, Starbucks, and the resurgence of Boeing. We also got the Kingdome, and our beloved Mariners baseball team, and Seahawks football team. There are great pictures of the eruption of Mount. St. Helens, local politicians, sports figures, and the WTO riots of 1999 included, just to name a few.

Barry Sweet saw it all through his lens, and captured these images in a very compelling way. The proof is right here. Split Seconds contains some excellent photos, which should appeal to just about everyone. The book also serves as something of a walk down memory lane of Seattle as well.

About Greg Barbrick