After nearly two years of producing content for YouTube, I thought it was time to share my background in photography, and life. The analog man in our digital world. This video details my initial spark of photography, how that spark grew into a warming blaze, how that blaze grew brighter until it was nearly extinguished by burnout. The unlikely coincidences that rekindled the flame, and how I ended up here on YouTube. Thanks for joining me in this journey down memory lane. I’m glad there were still some torches of memorabilia to light this path.
Inspired by the book, “Shutterbug,” by Lou and Zena Shumsky, I started experimenting with photography in the mid 1970’s by making enlargements of old negatives I found of family vacation photos. I built myself a photo enlarger from a Pringle’s potato chip can, a magnifying glass and a cardboard tube. After a short time, I was able to purchase a used photo enlarger, ironically from my future instructor, Mr. A, and began making prints of my own photographs in darkroom I created in a corner of our basement’s furnace room. At least it had a laundry tub for water.
My dad bought me a Kalamar 660 medium format camera that I used for a few years. In 1977, my dad and a few of his pilot friends planned a trip to Alaska. He needed a smaller 35mm SLR camera to take and we settled on the Olympus OM-1 system. I quickly adopted the OM-1 as my own and am wearing it in the above photo.
In High School I attended our local Careers Center and took Visual Communications taught by Dick Aldrich, or Mr. A as we all called him. He was an amazing and gifted teacher. He was not formally educated in teaching, but was rather a semi-retired commercial photographer and graphic artist. What he taught us was all practical knowledge and skills that we would need to be employed in the Graphic Arts industry. My Senior year of High School, I worked “OJT” or “On the Job Training.” I was hired by the local newspaper as a staff photographer. I would tend High School classes in the morning, and report to the newspaper in the afternoon. I photographed the area Varsity and Junior Varsity sports, accidents, newborns, ribbon cuttings, and any other imagery the newspaper might need. After graduating High School, I worked a few retail jobs and continued to build my fledgling wedding photography business.
I was then was offered a space to open a real photography studio. The landlord spent the winter remodeling the basement location, and in the Spring of 1981 (at 19 years old) I opened a storefront photography location. Things were incredibly slow that first year. I was shooting a few portraits and weddings with a Mamiya M645 camera and a portable battery operated Sunpak strobe. I had a small softbox to mount the strobe for studio photos. One light and a reflector is all I was able to afford. This “studio” was located across the street from a historic building that had been a photography studio since 1906. Originally, Osborn Studio, it was more recently used by a pair of photographers under the name of Skylight Studios. For whatever reason, the partnership dissolved and they moved out of the building. I was able to secure the location and move my studio across the street.
Having a visible business on the Main Street instantly gave me and my studio more credibility. With the help of my assistant, Barb, we grew much larger and soon were photographing over 300 High School Seniors every year. It was Barb who taught me how to run a photography business. She had worked for an excellent photography studio in Northern Michigan, and had to move when her husband was promoted and transferred to the local State Police post. She really got me on the right track in organizing client files, some promotion ideas, and even some excellent suppliers.
I was featured in two Professional Photography magazines and began to win awards for my portrait and wedding photography. I passed the exams and reviews necessary for me to earn my CPP from the Professional Photographers of America and my PPM/CP from the Professional Photographers of Michigan.
Unbeknownst to me, I was beginning to suffer from burnout. Starting to become bored with photography, I began adding services such as Wedding videography. It was an odd choice, as I was tapering off the amount of weddings I would photograph, but learning how to do video editing would serve me very well in the future.
Video In The 1980’s
I initially purchased a new “Professional” VHS editing suite, but if you’ve ever edited VHS tape, there’s noting professional about it. It breaks down extremely rapidly when duplicated. It’s not at all like digital editing where the copy os identical to the original. Editing video tape involved copying and re-transcoding the fragile video signal and it breaks down rapidly. I located a used Sony 3/4″ U-Matic editing suite in Denver Colorado, purchased it and had it air-freighted to Detroit Metro Airport. Each deck weighed over 200 lbs and the pushbutton controller was another 100 lbs. I built a custom desk in a storage closet to serve as an editing suite.
We would shoot weddings on VHS, once back into the studio, we would copy the raw footage onto 3/4″ tape, which had a much more robust signal. I used a two camera setup. One camera at the front of the church on a wired pan/tilt head, and one at the back of the church to get closeups and wide shots. We could then edit as needed and then copy the final edited video onto VHS tape for the customer. It was a very time consuming (and unprofitable) process. I could never actually make money shooting wedding videos. Any profit made from all that video gear was from transferring people’s old 8mm home movies onto video tape! In the photo below, you can see the 8mm movie projector we used to do those transfers. The movie was projected onto a small screen and recorded with that gray video camera you can see laying on top of the monitors.
Here are some of the promotional pieces (and a TV ad) used to promote and advertise my studio:
I began to realize that I was suffering from career burnout. I was asking the big questions: “What is my purpose in life?” and “Is this all there is?” I had gone through a divorce after a very brief marriage and was pretty shaken in my confidence. I made the decision to close my studio and pursue my dream… being a ski bum in Colorado!
At this time, my father’s cancer had returned with a vengeance, and I couldn’t move that far away. I chose to sell my home and move closer to my boyhood town. It was at my father’s funeral home visitation when I met Michelle. Our parents were friends and owned similar businesses in different cities. They had often talked about getting us together, but the timing was never right. I guess my dad decided that we needed to be together.
The Great Reset – for us
After a decade away from photography, I started picking up a camera again and did photography for my own enjoyment rather than profit. I discovered that I still had a deep passion for photography and began exploring many ways to create images professionally again.
During the pandemic, Michelle and I took the opportunity to reassess our life – where we were and where we were going. I had also begun to immerse myself in the YouTube photography community, and found a very warm and welcoming family. My channel (and this blog) is my attempt to share my knowledge, be creative with a camera, and inspire others to seize life and see the beauty that is all around us. Thank you for joining me on the journey.