An Overview of My Experiences with Photography

I think I was twelve when my parents gave me a Kodak Instamatic camera and some film. I don’t recall having any great fascination with getting snapshots then.

In high school in my sophomore year, Ms. Schick asked me to stay after school for a bit. What followed was a bit of a surprise. She recruited me to join the yearbook staff as a photographer. I think my primary qualification was that I didn’t seem likely to run off with the photo gear and pawn it or something. But I walked out of the room with a Mamiya 1000 DTL 35mm SLR with 55m normal lens to try out. That did start something. I was on yearbook staff for the remainder of my time in high school. I learned to process black and white film and print it. I read up on photography techniques. I got better acquainted with a friend of the family, Lamar Philpot, who did photography professionally in Bradenton, Florida. Lamar gave me practical lessons on getting good exposures, developing, and printing photos. He also gave me the gift of encouragement. I won several awards in local competitions and the like, and just enjoyed doing photography.

In college, my parents encouraged me to take a part-time job so I could partly pay my own way. The job I got was as a staff photographer for the Independent Florida Alligator. This was a quick step into the realm of photojournalism. The folks I worked with were very serious indeed about photojournalism, and I learned a lot from them. By this time, my personal photo gear was primarily two Nikon F2 SLRs and a few lenses. My favorite lens was a 24mm f/2.8 Nikkor, which actually was the first piece of Nikon gear that I had purchased, under the advice of Lamar Philpot.

During my undergraduate studies, I took several courses in fine art photography through the U. Florida Fine Arts department. I was able to take courses from Wallace Wilson and Evon Streetman. My schtick then was taking panoramic photos with long exposures at night, adding light via flash and flashlight. I don’t think my instructors thought a lot of it, but I enjoyed it.

After graduating with my BS degree in zoology in 1982, I had to find myself a job. Demand for people with zoology degrees being quite limited, I ended up leaning on my photography experience to obtain a job working the darkroom for a photographic studio, Media Image Photography. This is the studio of Randy Batista, and at the time I was there, Laurie Hitzig ran an art print gallery in the same building. My job was to do copy photography, black and white film processing, black and white printing, and toning as necessary. Quite a lot of the business was in the copy photography, where we would produce enlargements from prints. As time went by, I was able to assist in other aspects of the studio’s work as well.

But I wasn’t going to stay in a photo studio, no matter how good, forever. I kept looking for employment that would relate to my biological training, and eventually found an opening in 1983 at the University of Florida in the Anesthesiology Department of the College of Medicine. The title was “Laboratory Technologist III”, but once again it was the photography that got me the job. What they wanted was audio-visual support. In those pre-PowerPoint days, the slide projector ruled presentation of technical materials. The deparment hosted continuing education seminars five days a week starting promptly at 7 AM. Part of my job was to arrive early to open the room, get the AV gear ready, and, most importantly, to make sure the coffee cart made it down to the meeting room. While in this job, I also got to learn to work various bits of diagnostic equipment in the lab. But most of my time was spent converting artwork into slides. The basic process involved Kodalith high contrast film and applied dyes. I developed a technique of masking with rubber cement that allowed me to color much smaller elements of slides than the department had done before, which increased my workload as the researchers took advantage of it. I also did some public relations photography for Shands Hospital during this time.

This was still a job with not enough biology, so I eventually found another job within the University in 1985. This one was titled “Biologist I” and really meant it. Photography was a part of the equation for getting the job, but not a major one. The fact that I had picked up use of personal computers and could also handle reagents for histological work in addition got me the job. I became essentially a research assistant to Richard Hill Lambertsen. Lambertsen is a researcher into the histology, physiology, and evolution of baleen whales and especially fin whales. While I was there, animal rights groups including PETA targeted Lambertsen because of his association with Iceland and their scientific take of fin whales. When I left in 1986, Lambertsen was essentially under siege on campus. He was later denied tenure in what I consider an act of cowardice by the school administration. I produced photographic prints of photomicrographs for publication while working this job. Lambertsen had a sweet Nikon photomicroscope that I learned a lot about, including setting up Kohler illumination.

Life shifted. Diane got a job offer out of her electrical engineering BS degree for over twice what I was making. We moved, and I entered a master’s program in computer science. But I did insist on setting up a darkroom in our garage. One disappointment that I had was that I could never get Diane interested in spending any time in the darkroom. It simply held no interest for her.

My next two jobs were based upon my computer science degree, and photography wasn’t a big part of my life during this period. I had discovered things like “bulletin board systems” and arguing evolution/creation issues online.

Things continued like that until Mark Todd and I attended the 2000 Consumer Electronics Show. We stopped by the Creative Labs booth and dropped entries in for one of their presentations that included drawings for prizes. There was a $1000 gift certificate being given away, and the announcer pulled a card and announced that “Chuck” had won. He then considered the fact that “Chuck” was the only thing written on the card and said they weren’t going to consider that an entry. He pulled another card and called out my name. I converted the gift certificate into a Sony CyberShot F-505 camera, a 2.1 megapixel digital camera. This relaunched my interest in photography. What’s more, Diane got interested as well. It seems that getting away from the darkroom made all the difference for her.

I also started doing event photography in 2000. Diane wanted me to go to dog sport events that she participated in, and wanted to know what that would take. I said that I could tolerate most things viewed through a camera. The money made by selling prints to folks at events has gone back toward paying for photo gear. The goal is to make this hobby self-supporting, if not profitable. A major purchase was obtaining a Fuji S2 Pro digital SLR in 2002, so as to go digital with the event photography. It took until fall of 2003 to make enough to pay back the hobby debt on the body. It permits digital photography without excuses, delivering better results than I had been achieving with film for the event photography.

I’m also using the Fuji for our personal photography. See this page of photos of a hawk walk for a sample.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.