The Cal Olson Photograph Collection was featured in the Sunday, September 25 issue of The Forum. Olson was a long-time photographer with the Forum newspaper. In 2009 the family donated his extensive negative collection to the NDSU Institute for Regional Studies, totaling over 16,000 items. The images document a broad segment of his photographic work for the Forum as well as private work.
Text from Forum article, by Amy Dalrymple:
Capturing history: A retrospective of the late Forum photographer Cal Olson
Iconic collection available through NDSU institute
FARGO - The work of a former Forum photographer noted for his coverage of the 1957 tornado is now available to the public.
The family of Cal Olson, who worked for The Forum in the 1950s and ’60s, donated a massive collection of negatives to the North Dakota State University Institute for Regional Studies. Director John Bye estimates there are more than 16,000 negatives of Olson’s work as a Forum photographer and of his private work. About 600 images are available online through the institute’s Digital Horizons website, and additional photos will be added. Olson, who preferred the title newspaperman over photographer or journalist, died in 2009 at age 84.
His daughter, Cathy McMullen, a Concordia College journalism professor, said the family decided to donate the negatives rather that keep them in a closet. “He shot so much for so long that I wanted other people in the community to be able to see them,” McMullen said.
The collection includes photos from the June 20, 1957, tornado that ripped through Fargo and killed 12 people, including six children from the Munson family. One image – Dick Shaw cradling the lifeless body of 4-year-old Jeanette Munson – led The Forum’s photo coverage and became iconic. The Forum staff won a Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for the coverage. But the tornado wasn’t Olson’s only noteworthy assignment.
Olson spent a month in 1965 documenting North Dakota’s American Indian reservations. The Forum published 46 photos and five stories from that assignment, which later won several awards. In 1966, Olson spent a month in Vietnam to interview and photograph soldiers from the Red River Valley. Olson’s collection also includes images of four presidents who visited North Dakota: Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
McMullen said some of her father’s important photos are not necessarily the most dramatic pictures rather routine images that capture everyday life. “They really document the place and a time in a way that I think is valuable,” McMullen said. Colburn Hvidson III, a former Forum photo chief who considered Olson a mentor, said Olson recorded a considerable amount of Fargo’s history. Hvidson describes Olson’s style as being “clean and simple.” “He was very concerned about images making a statement,” Hvidson said. “I think most of the photos that he took did that.”