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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Photographers Bill and Kathy Kostelec capture Spokane’s evolution one photo at a time

Photographers Bill and Kathy Kostelec remember when the art deco Rookery Building marked Riverside Avenue and Howard Street.

They remember when there was a water tower in Hillyard and when Huppins was located downtown.

Having spent the last 25 years photographing nearly every inch of Spokane, the Kostelecs have captured the city’s evolution one photo at a time.

To mark their silver anniversary in town, the pair have curated “Spokane Silver Celebration,” a show that features 50 gelatin silver prints – 25 from Bill and 25 from Kathy – at Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

“Spokane Silver Celebration,” which was supported by a Spokane Arts Grant Award, opened June 20 and continues through Aug. 4.

The Kostelecs didn’t began photographing Spokane with the intention of one day having a Spokane-based show, but after realizing how much material they had, an exhibition seemed like the obvious next step.

Kathy Kostelec said the pair went through thousands of negatives, everything from 35 mm to 8-by-10 inches.

Some, like a photo of Spokane Public Bath House, really jumped out at the pair. Others, though the pair loved them from an artistic standpoint, didn’t speak to Spokane the way, for example, a photo taken in Comstock Park did.

“The trees coming down in the snow at Comstock Park and a walker caught right in between them,” Kathy said. “That’s so Spokane, people walking their dogs in the snow in the winter and the tall pine trees.”

Over the years, the pair have found themselves returning to certain parts of the city. The Kostelecs are interested in local history, so a modern mall, for example, isn’t as appealing as old brick-and-mortar buildings or places with historical significance.

The Kostelecs are often drawn to Hillyard, Vinegar Flats and downtown, where Kathy Kostelec gets a lot of inspiration from graphic lines.

“Because we’re black-and-white film photographers, certain things respond much more fully to monochrome,” Bill Kostelec said.

The Kostelecs shoot film and use older equipment (the newest equipment they use is from the 1960s, the pair estimates) that often catches the eyes of passersby.

“Put a camera on your shoulder and you’ll start a conversation,” Bill Kostelec said with a laugh.

But the pair doesn’t shoot film just to say they shoot film. There’s more to it.

“We love everything about it,” Kathy Kostelec said. “The way it captures the light and all the different techniques in the darkroom to create a silver print.”

For all those thousands of negatives, the Kostelecs haven’t been able to photograph everything over the years.

Kathy Kostelec wishes she had photographed the Davenport Hotel before the revitalization process.

“You drive by and you keep thinking you’ll stop by and photograph one day, and now you’re thinking, ‘That’s definitely something I wish I had some documentation of’ because it’s such a classic building,” she said. “But that’s a lesson: If you see it, you should photograph it then because chances are it will never be the same.”

Going off that lesson, Bill Kostelec mentions the photo titled “Cigar Wall.”

One Sunday morning, the pair photographed an old cigar ad on the side of a building on Division Street: “Owl Cigar,” it read. “Now 5¢.”

Just weeks later, the owner had painted the wall a “gaudy orange.”

“All the history, layers of signs, were buried,” Bill Kostelec said. “That’s the same lesson Kathy’s talking about. If you think it’s interesting, shoot it.”