These days, when just about everyone has a camera and most of us have appeared as “extras” in someone else’s photos, it can be easy to forget that just a few decades ago the situation was quite different. Back in the late 1970s, amateur photography was the domain of serious hobbyists.
Among them was John Bauguess, chronicling the local scene with gusto and unusual skill. His wide-angle monochrome shots of bygone Lane County, a few hundred of which are now stored for posterity at University of Oregon archives, are a historical marker of sorts — and a treasure trove of information about the past.
In 1977 Bauguess turned his lens to the filming of Animal House in Cottage Grove. Then, as now, the town’s Main Street had a down-home vibe straight out of central casting, a vibe that appealed to director John Landis. His film’s final parade scene occupies only a few minutes in the final cut, but it took eight days to shoot.
For a week, Cottage Grove’s downtown was a hive of Hollywood activity. Eight hundred extras were hired. Several dozen of them are visible in the small selection of Bauguess inkjet prints, now on display through September at the Cottage Grove Museum.
The photos are as remarkable for what they don’t show. Aside from one photo of budding star John Belushi, they are essentially pedestrian. They show average-looking town denizens idling on the set’s fringes, waiting for the next live action.
By focusing on the sidelines, Bauguess allows the humdrum details to dominate. Filmed in the 1970s, the movie is set in 1962. Yesteryear’s hats, coats, hairstyles and signage seem exotic. They weren’t shot abroad. Instead they were taken just four decades ago.
But the effect is similar. The photographs’ minor anachronisms fascinate, and keep the viewer’s eye moving through the frame in search of more. Everything is altered, it seems, except the buildings and backdrops, many of which appear similar today.
Whether subjects change over time or remain static, their photographic depictions almost invariably become more interesting. And when the subject is familiar — a local main street, say — this is doubly so.
Bauguess’ photos drive this point home. Local photo and history buffs should make the quick trip south to see them.
John Bauguess’ Animal House photos are display through September at the Cottage Grove Museum, 147 N. H Street, Cottage Grove; hours 1-4 pm Friday through Sunday.