Tides of Time: Cysewski’s Ferry Boat Photographs

Coauthored by Ada Brown, Northwest Room Intern & Spencer Bowman Northwest Room Librarian

Within the collection of photographs taken by Stephen Cyseweski, opens a new window, there is a small set of images he captured while traveling on Washington State ferries. Taken some time around the late 1970s, these photos capture moments of humor, oddity, and human interaction that unfolds during our brief journeys on these uniquely Pacific Northwest vessels. Anyone who has experienced a ferry ride in Washington State knows the sensation of standing on an outside deck, watching the terminal fade away, and entering a liminal space where we all bide our time until we arrive. As a slice of daily life, these ferry photographs show people biding their time, in conversation, in thought. While viewing Cysewski’s photographs it is clear that in many ways life hasn’t changed at all. The black and white images create a feeling of timelessness, as well as highlighting Cysewski’s artistic aptitude for lighting and contrast. In these pictures we see Cysewski's eye for documenting the geometric qualities of the ship's structure, individuals interacting with strangers, as well as people just enjoying the ride. These images were processed and added to ORCA by Ada Brown, our Northwest Room Intern. 

Stephen Cysewski was an American photographer known for his self-described "wandering" style of street photography. Born in Berkeley, California he primarily grew up in the Tacoma area and graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1967. After college, he moved to Alaska as a VISTA volunteer where he lived for a year in the village of Shaktoolik. There he worked many jobs including as a high school counselor for Indian Education at West Anchorage High School. He earned his masters of Liberal Arts degree from Alaska Pacific University and then was employed as an assistant professor in Information Technology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks from 1991-2009. He retired as a professor in 2007 and was granted emeritus status. Throughout his life, he traveled the world to such places as Korea, Thailand, Europe, Alaska, and Washington State to take photographs. In 1979 Cysewski traveled to Tacoma where he took hundreds of photographs of the downtown and residential areas in the city, opens a new window. Cysewski passed away at home in Alaska on July 20th, 2020, after battling pancreatic cancer. 

We are looking forward to sharing more of Stephen Cysewski's photography in the near future. Until then, we recommend you take a look at some of his other work. His images of Tacoma taken in 1979,, opens a new window his 2011 photo book Wandering in Tacoma: The Seventies, opens a new window (available for checkout upon request!). Friends of the Northwest Room, Grit City Magazine, published an in-depth article, opens a new window about Cysewski's photographic work in Tacoma during the 1970s. 

Explore all of Cysewski's Ferry Boat Photos Here!