On my seventh day of ‘Thirty Days of Thankfulness‘ I am thankful for cameras and photography. I was exposed to photographic equipment (in more ways the one) from an early age. My father had a dark room and quite a bit of photographic gear. He did weddings and local school functions (for Homecoming and the prom) and helped out the yearbook staff with snapshots from sporting events and music department concerts. I learned to take direction (how to tilt my head, where to focus my eyes) at an early age. Naturally, I inherited this fascination with capturing electromagnetic radiation.
Second Generation Shutterbug
I am a poor excuse for a photographer, even an amateur one. I like to think I have a good eye for spotting a great photograph, I just don’t always have the right equipment with me, or remember how to use said photographic equipment to it’s fullest potential. I really have no excuse, considering I am a second generation shutterbug. For years, I’ve heard stories from my dad and uncle about my grandfather’s photographic exploits before, during and after WWII. I sent them each an e-mail requesting more detailed information and they gladly provided the following tidbits:
My father told me my grandfather, Ralph, became a photographer while attending Leavenworth High School during the 1930s. He also worked and learned from a local Leavenworth camera shop and portrait studio called Star Studio. My uncle added that photography during the 30s was still an arcane, complicated and a very hands-on hobby/profession.
Even with film purchased from commercial sources, photographic developing and printing (separate processes) involved the precise mixing of chemicals and control of temperature and humidity to develop and fix the image on the film, and to develop and fix the image on the paper. Both processes—plus the actual exposure of the photo-sensitive paper to the projected image from the developed film—required rigorous control of environmental conditions. Ralph took pictures for the Leavenworth High School year book. In 1937, Ralph won statewide (Kansas) honors as the top (or one of the top) science students in public high schools.
Both my dad and uncle confirmed that after graduating, Ralph also worked for the local newspaper, the Leavenworth Times as well as continuing at Star Studio. Some of his work appeared in the paper.
My father remembers Ralph being stationed in the Pacific, specifically, New Guinea, during WWII as photo support of air corp operations. For a short time, Ralph stayed in Japan as part of the Occupation forces. During the Cold War, Ralph returned to active duty in the Air Force for Korea, but conducted his work from here in the U.S. Ralph stayed in the Air Force until retirement in 1968, being stationed to various sites around the world, working as tech and photo resource.
My dad remembered Ralph’s equipment best. Ralph had several cameras including a 4×5 Speed Graphic; an Argus C3, an early 35mm; and, he did some early color work during WWII, before the film was available to the public. Ralph held a patent on a modification to the old flash bulb to keep them from going off when in close proximity to radar equipment.
My uncle relates more detailed information regarding Ralph’s military service: With the onset of World War Two, Ralph volunteered for duty in the US Army Air Corps, enlisting at Sherman Field on Fort Leavenworth. Because of his experience with highly technical photography, he was elected for further training both as a photographer and as an officer (despite his not having a college education).
During World War Two, photography units, such as Ralph’s in the Pacific theater of war, performed all the various functions of photography. They took the pictures: aerial photography was in its infancy, ground combat photography, plus the more traditional documenting of people and events. They developed the film and prints, and they also interpreted the aerial reconnaissance pictures. Ralph was the supply officer of his small unit, which included responsibility for maintaining the necessary chemicals as well as support for their mobile, air-conditioned dark room tents.
After World War Two, Ralph earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the University of Kansas, followed by a master’s in photographic engineering at Boston University. His Air Force work included collaboration with General George W. Goddard, the “father” of modern aerial reconnaissance, developing concepts and systems for both air-breathing and satellite reconnaissance.
In his later years with the United States Air Force, Ralph worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Headquarters USAF and HQ Air Force Systems Command to identify and procure future reconnaissance systems. During that time, Ralph was involved in the development of computerized systems to record and transmit photographic systems. He retired in 1968, before the advent of micro-computers which revolutionized the capture and processing of images but his work brought the USAF to the cusp of exploiting those digital systems as they developed.
I wish to express my deep gratitude to my father and uncle who provided, at the drop of a hat, the scanned photographs and commentary for this section.
Family Vacation Slideshows
My dad took us (mom, my brother and I) all over the continental United States, following his brother’s military migrations and also to visit my mother’s relatives in Montana and the Pacific Northwest. Consequently, before I had graduated from high school, I’d been to all but three of the lower 48 states and at least two Canadian provinces. We visited nearly every National Park, massive hydroelectric dams, a few nuclear power plants, a meteor crater, caves, mountains, deserts, a rain forest and historical sites from coast to coast. Once we returned home, and the slides were returned from the developer, we’d gather with local friends and family for a re-cap slideshow of our latest vacation adventure.
Annual Christmas Card Family Photo
Every fall, my dad would gather us together in the kitchen or the living, which he had converted temporarily to a portrait studio, complete with tripods, flash units, reflectors and light meters, to take that year’s family photo to be used as our family Christmas card. My cousin, Wendell, still follows this tradition, although with a Star Wars-ian twist some years. I prefer to create a Christmas letter or newsletter, similar to a blog post, where I can include more than one photo, and usually of a more casual nature (as I prefer candids to posed snapshots). At the risk of dating myself (more than I already have), to the left you’ll see the Andrea Family Christmas Card from 1974.
Recording My Own Family
Film still ruled the day when both my kids were born in the mid to late 80s, so photos of my fledgling family are scarcer but all the more precious. I used mostly disposable cameras, since I didn’t own a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. Once my kids started participating in sports and music, I invested my limited funds in a camcorder and now I have boxes and boxes of VHS-C videotapes in my basement. Whether or not I ever get them converted to digital format remains to be seen. By the time my children reached high school, I made the leap to digital video and photography. Now, instead of magnetic tape storage, I’m archiving family memories to DVD. I upload some of these videos to my infrequently used YouTube channel.
I always seem to be in my car or the van when a spectacular sunrise or sunset occurs. So I’m reduced to the capabilities of the embedded camera in my cell phone which has a lens smaller than the eraser on a pencil. Occasionally, though, I’m prepared (or I forgot and left all my photographic equipment in the trunk of my car) and I plan a session from a local park or cemetery. My library has an east facing window, so I can catch the sunrise in the late fall and winter while sipping on my freshly steeped tea. I captured the sunrise to the left from that room in early March of this year. Sunsets are more difficult from my home, because it sits lower than K-7/US-73 to my west and on the other side of the highway is a large hill. So sunsets usually mean packing up everything and hopping in the car to West Mary Street, near the new Elementary School, or to Mount Muncie or Mount Calvary Cemeteries.
Astrophotography – My Final Frontier
I hope to merge two of my favorite hobbies once I retire: Astronomy and Photography. By then, I also hope to have moved to a location with darker night skies, a higher altitude and minimal obstructions (no close large trees, streetlights or hills). For now, I make do with an occasionally moon shot using either my telescope or just the telephoto lens and a tripod. Someday I plan to photograph Jupiter, Saturn, a galaxy and a nebula.