Unseen photos of Mt. St. Helens eruption discovered in forgotten camera at Goodwill

by: Ashli Blow, KIRO 7 News Updated:

A Portland woman who finds old cameras and develops forgotten film has discovered unseen photos of the Mount St. Helens eruption.

“I run into the big Goodwill in [Southeast Portland] and check all their film cameras for exposed, but undeveloped rolls of film,” said Kati Dimoff, who is a photographer herself. “[In May], I bought an Argus C2, which would have been produced around 1938, and it had a damaged roll of Kodachrome slide film in it.”

>> See the newly discovered photos here or in the gallery above

Dimoff dropped it off at a Portland shop that develops vintage film. When she picked it up, a message was left on her package of photographs.

The Argus C2, which would have been produced around 1938, and it had a damaged roll of Kodachrome slide film in it. Image: Courtesy Kati Dimoff

"Is this from the Mount St. Helen eruption?" it read.

Thirty-seven years ago, 57 people lost their lives amid raining ash throughout Washington state in the wake of the Mount St. Helens explosion.

Journalists and residents alike captured moments of the volcano’s notorious eruption in 1980; thousands of people to this day still watch their surreal video and chilling photos the lateral blast that took out the north side of the mountain.

>> See some of those photos here

But Dimoff’s images show a new perspective of the plume cloud that haunted the northwest.

“Some of the shots showed Mt. St. Helens way off in the distance with just the little puffs of ash from the beginning of the eruption, with the Longview Bridge [at the Oregon-Washington border] in view, so it must have been shot from just off Highway 30,” Dimoff told KIRO 7 News.

“Two of the shots showed a larger ash cloud, with John Gumm Elemetary School in the foreground in St. Helens, Oregon … Another shot included a family in a backyard, who I'm hoping know the story of the camera.”

Dimoff included an image of the family when sharing the photos with local media, in hopes she could connect with them. Image: Courtesy Kati Dimoff

After The Oregonian picked up Dimoff’s story, a man Mel Purvis contacted the publication that he had read their story and recognized himself in the photos.

Dimoff shared the update with KIRO 7 News about Purvis -- who identified his wife, grandmother and son in the photo that was taken in a Eugene yard decades ago.

Purvis believes the newly found Mt. St. Helens photos are from his grandmother’s camera. His grandmother died in 1981, and he isn’t sure how her camera made it to Goodwill.

“That picture is one of the last I have of [my grandmother]," Purvis told KIRO 7 News.

His mother, the daughter of his grandmother, died on Saturday. He said discovery gave him goose bumps.

"A few days later, this shows up out of the blue," he said. "I am not at all a religious person. But, kind of makes you wonder a little ... The timing of it is remarkable, I guess.

Soon the camera will be back in Purvis’ family as Dimoff will be mailing it and the prints to him.


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