Photography

Some of my photography is also found on my Visual Arts page.

Getting Hooked

My interest in photography was minimal until I found myself in upstate New York, stationed at Camp Drum. I was looking for something to do and a friend invited me to accompany him to the base Special Services facility where they had crafts, woodworking, and a photo lab for servicemen to use.

I watched as John developed a roll a film and, while not really understanding the process and not being able to see anything happen, it did seem to be an interesting diversion. However, while the film dried he got things set up to print from some negatives he'd developed on his last visit there. That's when things changed for me. John made an exposure on a piece of enlarging paper and slipped it into the developer tray. When I saw a picture magically appear on the paper I was overtaken with a sense of awe and knew from that instant I wanted to learn and do.

The next day I bought a camera (a Minolta SRT-100 35mm SLR), some film, and checked out a handfull of books on photography from our small base library. In my non-working hours I traveled around the area, shooting roll after roll of film, so I'd have something to play with in the darkroom. It become addictive and I wanted to know everything about the process of printmaking.

Getting a Focus as a Lab Rat

While some people get interested in photography and want to become the next Peter Gowland, Brett Weston, Ansel Adams, or Richard Avedon, I wanted to master the darkroom. I am a lab rat. The camera was simply a tool to produce material I could develop and print. I didn't dream of an ever-expanding camera bag with an assortment of camera bodies and a wide range of lenses, I thought about enlargers, safelights, timers, and the types of processes that were possible in that little room.

I worked in many darkrooms during my Army days. After Camp Drum I found myself at Fort Dix where there was also a well-equipped lab. Unlike Camp Drum, the lab in Fort Dix was staffed so I could ask questions and pick up tips. However, due to the nature of life at the time, rotating shift work, I didn't spend as much time in the lab as I liked. That changed drastically when our battalion was disbanded and I shipped out to Germany.

The International Experience

Wackernhein, Germany. A very small kaserne that was primarily a support base for a Nike missile site down the road. Luckily, even though the place had limited facilities, it did have a photolab which quickly became by second home. I worked 24-hours on and 24-hours off at the missile site and during those off days, I was usually found in the photo lab. It was run by a German gentleman, Ernst Berg, who had an extensive background in photography, a greats sense of humor, and an expiremental approach to things. It was there my black and white printing improved and I learned how to process and print color materials.

I experimented with films and developers, pushing and pulling, honed my burning and dodging techniques, and starting working more with some experimental techniques such as the Sabbatier Effect which I feel I was able to master.

And, yes, I did travel while I was there. Only having 24-hours off at a time limited my range but I made it as far north as Cologne and as far east as Heidleberg. Then, by a stroke of luck, my unit had to go do some training at a NATO base in Crete and I brown-nosed my way on that excursion. I figured that at least the weather would be warmer but the real treat was that while the unit trained for 10-day, I, and two other military policemen, were turned lose. 10 days on Crete. The only instructions we were given was to stay on the island and don't miss the plane that would take us back to Germany.

After 5 days of sightseeing in Crete, I inquired what it would take to get to Athens. The travel agent next door to the hotel said $37.50 round trip on Olympic Airlines. Passport? No. Orders? No, just the $37.50. The other guys said "no, way" as we were supposed to stay in Crete but I wasn't going to be $37.50 away from Athens and not go. Finally, one of the guys agreed to go with me and off we went for a few days. It was great.

Over those 10 days I shot 43 rolls of film: black and white, color print, color slide, 35mm and medium format. I had plenty to keep me busy in the darkroom on my return to Germany.

Back to Civilian Life

After moving back to the West Coast, my apartment bathroom served a dual purpose as it became my darkroom. I found a job in a photofinishing lab where I was a film cutter, manually cutting 35mm, 126, 110, and all other sized negatives into shorter strips and matching them back up with the customer's envelope. That was an 8-hour midnight shift. I finally moved up and learned to run a color printer, cross-trained running the color print processor, learned color retouching and spotting, and finally was trained and assumed the new position as quality control technician. I mixed all the chemistry, set up all the machines, ensured they worked within specs, and produced very few rejects. It was factory work, but it was fun.

In the meantime I moved from a one bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom duplex. The extra bedroom naturally became a dedicated darkroom. I continued spending long hours in the dark trying out various process which included photo-seriagraphy, posterization, work with half-tome films, positive color printing, and anything else that struck my imagination. I then bought my first house and the darkroom was, again, set up in the 2nd bedroom and I continued to spend many hours there.

Life altered when children arrived followed by a move to another state coupled with a career change. I eventually set up a darkroom in a windowless basement room and put it to some use, however, I had been away from it for too and have been unable to rekindle the same flame of passion to the level it once was. Other flames have ignited in its place and I think of it as not "out" but just in pilot light mode.

Reigniting the Passion

In about 2015, I started venturing back into the dark. That room had become a place where stuff was put when you weren't quite ready to get rid of it. I pretty much emptied it out and only put back that which was photographic. I went through all the equipment and cleaned and made sure it was working properly. I ordered new chemicals, film, and paper. I thought I could pick up where I'd left off but I'd lost the muscle-memory of my workflow. Not only that, the negatives were coming out thin and the prints were dull.

I backed off went back to the books. I reread Ansel Adams series, The Camera, The Negative, the Print. I shot test film and tried different developes, times, and temperatures. I finally reestablished the workflow and the control I used to have. The passion reignited.

It was also around this time I decided to pursue a degree in art at Montana State University-Billings. I was motivated by my desire to learn how to draw, at least to expand by drawing skills. In the Fall of 2017 I took the Photography 1 course and thoroughly enjoyed it. With my technical skills reestablished, I was able to concentrate and on bringing a new way to approach the content of my work. As of this writing I am only begun to scratch the surface of where I think I can go. The adventure is on.

Updated December 2017.