My Life in Pictures

I’ve been shooting since the Kodak Pocket Instamatic in high school. By the time I enlisted in the Marine Corps, I got my first SLR camera, an Olympus OM-1 with a fixed, 50mm lens. You could adjust the aperture and focus, and could add a flash with its hot shoe. I wish I still had that camera…. I worked as photojournalist and learned about telling a visual story in black and white photos, always to support a printed story. We were multi-media and didn’t know it! I soon became an officer and since have edited thousands of photos, coached photographers, and directed the work of photographers in combat, the Marine Corps Marathon, President Clinton’s Inauguration and numerous military exercises and events.

I had the distinction of following Eddie Adams, the Pulitzer-prize winning photographer for his work in Vietnam, for an afternoon while he was on assignment to shoot the Secretary of the Navy James Webb for the cover of Parade Magazine while the Secretary was visiting Marine Corps Base Quantico. He taught me about getting the shot. Two things: The first is to go where you have to go, get in the way, get in position with your camera to get the photograph until you’re either kicked out or moved, because your job is to get the shot. That’s what you’re being paid to do. The second thing he taught me is to turn around 180 degrees every once in a while because many times the best shot is behind you, not in front of you.

Classes: I’m in a photography class at UMW now so I’m taking a lot of photos, and this is all about remembering everything forgot in past classes. I used to develop my B&W film in the darkroom at Quantico every day in 1978-79. Then in 1996-97, on the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, we got about 20 of Kodak’s AP 2000s, a beta digital camera that had not hit the market yet, to the tune of either $22K or $28K, using 3.5-inch cards–very heavy and bulky, so we had to figure out how to use the cameras; upload and process digital images onto a computer, transmit the images over phone lines by email, then post them to a website. (My team of 40 shooters also had 20 film cameras for later processing.) We didn’t know if the computers inside the digital would freeze on January 20, so we had hand warmers in pockets ready to try to keep the digital cameras warm. Bottom line, my team scooped Associated Press that day, getting the first images on a website of the Swearing-In Ceremony, all done within 30 minutes–something that had never been done before so quickly in history.

All that said, I really like taking macro pictures of flowers and the natural world in natural light. I’ve taken digital camera classes with the Smithsonian, as well as Photoshop, but those are perishable skills. I now use Microsoft Photo Editor until I get serious again about artistic photo editing. I photograph nature in its setting. I approach a plant or animal and move into position so the light is the most favorable, instead of moving the object. Then I adjust the camera and compose the image to get the best finished image in the camera that is possible. My goal is to have memories of what I saw when I first encountered the object, and not to create a fantasy, or contrived image, of what I saw. The natural world does not need to be enhanced if properly captured.

I am not particularly interested in photographing anything that human has constructed because in my mind it typically lacks in comparison to what God and nature have created. The symmetry and asymmetry of nature are perfection if we just look closely, at the right angle, and sometimes just wait to see what happens next. My camera has gone with me on all my travels and I have photographed extensively, but since the iPhone has improved so much, it has replaced my SLR on trips so I can “go light.”

I need more work understanding the camera, to gain better control of light because that is the main point of the camera. This then creates a relationship with grain/noise, and depth of field. After that, it’s a matter of continual shooting and getting critiqued so I can improve my eye, to “see” a better composition. Someone told me once that it’s easy to rise to a level of mediocrity. Well, I think I’m at least mediocre because I struggle.

In the weekly assignment, we are asked how an image tells a story. It’s really about how and why the objects within the frame of the picture relate to each other. It’s one thing to have three discreet objects within a frame, not connected to each other, but when a car is smashed up against the front of a train and the track’s crossing signal arm is in the up position, then the observer of the photo can ascertain the visual story about how there was no alert for the car and it drove over the track and got hit by the oncoming train. The End.

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