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Where I Am Now - Part 3 of 3

July 19th, 2013

Where I Am Now - Part 3 of 3

A few years ago, my kids were both off to college and starting their own lives, so it was just my wife and I. I decided to try out this new fangled thing called digital photography, and this brings us back to the beginning of this story. I started off with a Kodak Z740 just to get my feet wet and see if I liked digital. After I decided I do like shooting digital, it was time to upgrade. Nikon of course. I got a little bonus at work and bought a D80 with a couple of Tamron lenses. My son gave me a copy of PaintShop Pro Photo for Father's Day. Then about a month, maybe two, later, Nikon came out with the D90. I lusted after that camera for a couple of years, and thanks to another little bonus, I got one. This time I bought Nikkor lenses, 28 - 105mm and 70 - 300mm. BIG difference. I now also shoot much more color than I used to, but it's easy enough to convert to black and white digitally. And when I break out the film cameras, it's still B&W.

Recently got my first smart phone. One requirement I had for one was a decent camera. So, my daughter and son-in-law bought me a Samsung Galaxy Note II with an 8mp camera. Haven't used it for much yet, and nothing in here, but I will. I will. It's mostly a back -up for when I don't have one of my Nikons handy.

People often ask me if I show my work. I tell them "Yes, here at FAA. At you can see some of my favorites.

But also on my Flickr page at I can let more people see my work here than in an art show or gallery. But, I wouldn't turn down a chance to put my work in a show or gallery.

I also have a gallery at RedBubble,

I have a couple of photo books for sale. A Galaxy In A Knothole is at

and Stuff In The Sand is at

These all contain some of my early film up to my latest digital work.

More Ramblings and A Little History - Part 2 of 3

July 19th, 2013

More Ramblings and A Little History - Part 2 of 3

Thinking back to how I first got into photography, it had to be in high school. We had a small black and white darkroom and a teacher, Diana Lopes, who showed me what can be done with a simple camera, a few chemicals and some film and paper. We even made a pinhole camera out of a box. It was the beginning of a whole new world for me. The class didn't last long due to a lack of interest. Not on my part though. I still have an image in my head of a photo that Ms. Lopes shot of me. We were on a field trip to Pescadero State Beach, between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, California (and still my favorite spot on the coast). It's a shot of me holding a rock with kelp anchors on it. Diana solarized the image while printing. I no longer have a copy of it, but I can still see it.

After high school, it was off to the army in 1972. The first camera I bought was a Kodak 110 Instamatic. Really small film, and not the best quality images, but it was small enough to take with me everywhere, and it gave me something to do. I managed to get a few good shots with it, but it was mostly just for snapshots.

Then I got sent to Germany, and found out that I had access to a black and white photo lab courtesy of the army's Special Services. The world of photography was opened up to me again. I bought a Yashica Electro 35, my first 35mm camera. It was a range finder camera, so fixed focus and no swapping lenses, but it was good enough to get me out shooting and back in the darkroom.

As my eye, and abilities in the darkroom evolved, I needed (wanted) something better. The solution was a Petri FT II with a few lenses; 35mm, 50mm, 135mm and 500mm. That big lens was heavy so I also bought my first tripod. But I didn't want to lug that tripod around all the time, so I found an old wooden rifle stock and fitted it with a couple of holders for the camera body and lens, a shutter release cable running down into the trigger housing, and a bipod that I borrowed from the company arms room. Got some weird looks when walking around the small German town I was stationed in. I even got stopped by the Polizei a couple of times until they got used to the sight. I guess the word got around Butzbach that there was a crazy American GI walking around with what looked like a rifle, but was just a camera with a long lens on a rifle stock. After that, I stopped using it around town and only used that set up out in the boonies doing nature shots. If I needed the long lens in town, I used the tripod. The Petri was a good camera, and I used it to learn a lot, but there was just something missing and I wanted more.

Enter my first Nikon (and the beginning of a lifelong brand love affair), an FTn Photonic . I bought a few lenses for it, a 35mm, 50mm (both Nikkor) and a Vivitar 85 - 205 zoom. This was my first zoom and opened up another new world of learning. I still have all of these lenses, but the FTn went it's own way as we'll see later.

I bought this camera about the same time I found out about a tour to Le Mans for The Race. So, I got my ticket for that too. This was a bus trip from Frankfurt to Paris for an overnight stay, then off to Le Mans the next day for the race. On the bus, I met a reporter for The Stars and Stripes, the armed forces newspaper. Turns out he had a pit pass with his photo on it, but we looked enough alike that if security didn't pay very close attention to it, I could pass. So, after he was done shooting in the pits, he loaned me his pass. Security didn't look very close. Talk about awesome photo opportunities; Ferrari, Porsche, Renault, Jaguar, Corvette, (this is why I need a film scanner if I can find those negatives). The rest of the weekend was a blast; besides the race, there was a carnival happening on the other side of the track from where I was watching the race (right at the first turn after the main straight, so I got great shots of the cars as they slowed for the turn). Got pictures of the cars, then off to the carnival for some serious fun and shooting, then back to the track. It rained that night, and this is where I began to get a feeling for how rugged this camera was. I just wiped the lens and kept on shooting.

Since I don't want this to become a bio of my life, let's just say that the FTn went through hell (military exercises, mountain climbing, skiing, travel, being dropped and tossed around) and never failed me in the four years I had it, including being stolen and recovered when I was stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. It also got me started doing a lot of free lance photography, mostly portraits, but some well paying travel photography too. Being stationed in Germany, with easy access to most of what was then called Western Europe, had some definite advantages to a young, single GI who loved to travel and take pictures of where he went. I had four shots from a trip to Switzerland published in TWA's Ambassador Magazine, my first time published. But even better than the money, which was pretty good (it paid for my trip), was seeing "Photographs by Robert Wall" in the magazine. I was walking on air. I also won, or placed high in several photography contests over the years, and got published in a few smaller publications.

Somewhere along the line, I decided to re-enlist in the army (passing up an opportunity to take a European Out and go into business with a friend and his wife who had opened up a photo studio in Giessen). I wanted to be an Army Photographer and worked with the company Career Counselor to make this happen. I re-enlisted as a Process Photographer. Yippee right? Wrong. This involved working with cameras that were installed in base stations or carried around in truck trailers. I got the opportunity to use a 24 inch, up to a 40 by 40 inch overhead process camera (that I helped install in our print shop in Germany), and got stationed in map making units doing pre-press work. Not quite what I had in mind, but it wasn't all bad. Besides being stationed just outside of Heidelberg my second tour in Germany, I picked up a lot of darkroom techniques that I could apply to my off duty free lance work.

Now, as you may have noticed, I always want something better, but how do I get better than that FTn without dishing out the immense cost of a Hasselblad? Well, Nikon came out with a camera called the F2 AS when I was stationed in Germany the second time. I found somebody to buy the FTn (I kept my lenses) and rushed down to the PX Audio/Video store and bought one. I still have this camera 30+ years later, though it doesn't get used very often anymore. The F2 kept me going as before, and I still had no fear of it ever letting me down. There was still something missing though. Shooting 35mm was great, but I wanted to shoot a larger format film. I blame this on my work as a Process Photographer, using large (up to 60 inch) sheet film. One day I was flipping through one of the photography magazines I subscribed to and saw a new camera was coming from Mamiya, the 645 (6 x 4.5cm, about four times larger than 35 mm film). This is considered a medium format size and I thought it was the next logical step in my photographic evolution. So, I bought one, along with a couple of lenses. I love that camera, and recently put it back into service after sitting on shelves or in my camera bag for more than 25 years.

I finally decided to get some formal training in photography too, so while stationed just outside of Heidelberg, I took some photography classes through the University of Maryland. I have some great stories about the class, the teacher and some of the people in the classes with me, but I won't bore you with those (at least, not now). I'll just say that, while I learned a few new tricks and ways of looking at photo opportunities in the classes, the teacher, Jeff, told me that he also learned a few things from me.

So, this takes me through nearly nine years in the army (not done yet though), and along with my free lance work, I was also usually the unofficial official company photographer. This made for some unique photo experiences (aside from my regular duties) that most people will never get. I also shot mostly black and white, but would shoot color occasionally. Why? Because I usually didn't have access to a color lab, but always had a black and white lab handy. Also, B&W is cheaper, and not nearly as big a hassle, or expense, as color. Besides, I felt that black and white just looked better. It tends to make a person think more about what they are looking at. Looking at a color photograph, you see what was there. Looking at B&W, you have to think about what was there and what the photographer saw.

So, after four years in Germany, it's time for me to head stateside again. I figured Fort Belvoir again as there were only three map making battalions in the army, and I didn't think I was going to get Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. Dammit. Orders came down for Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Why Fort Campbell? There was no need for my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) there. But in their infinite military wisdom, somebody decided I was going there. So, as I sat around the replacement station while Personnel tried to decide what to do with me, I reconnected with a friend from Germany who was now an instructor at the Air Assault School. Somehow, Kevin managed to get me an interview with the Division Command Sergeant Major for the 101st Airborne Division. As we talked, he told me there was no need for my MOS at Fort Campbell (I already knew that), but he was looking for people with other, special, skills. You know, like writers, photographers, etc. DING!!! I told him I had a few years experience in photography, and that is how I ended up as the NCOIC (NCO In Charge) at the post photo lab at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I had arrived!

Not only was I now an Army Photographer (I MADE IT!), I was the ranking military photographer there. We also had several civilians working in the lab, but they were bossed by another civilian. As the boss, I had to assign the army photographers to the different jobs on a daily basis, but I also got to assign myself some prime jobs along with the drudge and not-so-fun jobs too (can you say autopsies?), but ya can't have it all. It was a long time before I told my wife (we met while stationed in Germany but got married in Clarksville, Tennessee) all the stuff I used to do on some of the good jobs, like hanging out of, or standing on the skids, or dangling from a rope underneath helicopters taking pictures.

So, here I am, first day in my new job and what kind of camera did they assign me? A Canon. Now don't get me wrong, Canons are okay, but they aren't Nikon, so I decided that unless somebody held a weapon to my head, I was going to use my personal Nikon rather than lower my standards. A couple of days later, I was scrounging around in an old storage locker to see what was in there and found an old Nikon FTn. I had come home. That became my official camera. Something else I found in that locker was a camera I had always wanted to try; an old Graflex Speed Graphic 4x5 inch press camera (think about old movies from the forties and fifties and the cameras the photographers used). I loved it, but it was heavy as hell, not to mention having to carry several 4x5 film packs, and not something I wanted to haul around on jobs where I might have to move fast and shoot faster. But it was a beautiful old piece of photographic history and I would love to find another one. Maybe I'll check out E-Bay.

The one drawback to my job at Fort Campbell, besides a Tennessee summer, was that it was my last assignment in the army. I got out after being there for only five months.

I'll skip the next 20 years, because photographically, there wasn't much happening unless somebody is interested in pictures of my kids growing up, or the few shots I got while traveling on business, although I do have a lot of good shots of British Cars at various shows and drives. I shot some good stuff in the first two or three years as a civilian, and my first couple of jobs were in a print shop and an aerial photography mapping company, but most of my work wasn't very interesting to anybody but me (except for a model portfolio I put together for a friend's daughter). I needed a real skill, and fell into Quality Assurance. It has been a living.

I did pick up a couple more cameras along the way, a Nikon FM and an EM, hoping to get my wife into photography, but it seemed like my photographic life was over. I also have an old Argus c-Forty-Four 35mm rangefinder and a Tower 35mm stereo camera that a friend gave me when he was cleaning house and packing up to move back to Illinois, but I haven't used these. They take up places of honor on a shelf along with the F2 and EM. I think I gave the FM to my daughter who sold it on e-bay while in college and needed some money.

Bob Wall, Photographer, Picture Taker or Image Capture Engineer? You Decide. - Part 1 of 3

July 19th, 2013

Bob Wall, Photographer, Picture Taker or Image Capture Engineer? You Decide. - Part 1 of 3

While I do consider photography an art, I don't think of myself as an artist. I tend to be too analytical for that. I rarely shoot for feeling, but more often for something others might not see. Or just to capture a moment in time.

I like to shoot the objects you see everyday, but maybe from a slightly different angle. Or focus a little closer on something you might ordinarily overlook. Instead of the big picture, I might focus on the little things in that picture. Anybody can shoot a building; I want to shoot what is unique, or at least weird, about that building.

I have only been into digital photography for a few years now after many, many years (35+) shooting up lots of film. I am still scanning some of my old prints and thinking about buying a USB scanner that scans and converts slides and negatives to digital.

Using photography, I want to make you think. I want people to pay attention to what's around them. Break out of their box. Look at the knotholes in a tree; look at a rain-soaked parking lot; look at the shapes and colors in something as simple as an awning. Stand by the railroad tracks when a freight train goes by and look at the graffiti on the railcars. Some of it is really pretty good. Get up-close and personal with the bark on a tree. In other words, see The Galaxy In A Knothole (one of my favorite pictures). Above all, don't just look, but SEE. See what is really there in the details.

I also like to shoot the scenic shots that everybody shoots. If nothing else, it shows I was there. So, among my other pictures are shots from the Pacific Coast (I live in California), from the inland highways, to the cities, mostly of northern California.

A wise woman once told me "Find play value in all you do". That's a theme I try to carry into my photography; I don't take it too seriously. I do it because photography is my first true love. If I happen to make a few bucks now and then that's cool, but not why I'm doing it. And if I can make you stop and say "hmmm", even better. Let me know what you think, I love to hear from people who have looked at my work.

Expansions on my thoughts of photography:

As someone once told me, "anyone can take any old photograph"; which is why, with the advent of digital cameras and the software to exploit them, and the internet for showing them, I no longer even really think of myself as a photographer let alone an artist. More like an image capture engineer. It's hard to think of myself as a photographer anymore when anybody with a digital camera and access to the internet can call himself or herself a photographer.

Back in the old days, when it was all done with chemicals, film and paper, it was different. Not too many people were really into it, and those that were, were mostly into taking what I consider snapshots. You couldn't shoot up hundreds of pictures and hope for that one little gem. It was expensive, and unless you processed your own work (I did), you were at the mercy of photo labs to produce your work. You had to work at it. And me and my cameras worked at it. In fact, all of my film cameras have paid for themselves (my digital cameras are on their way). Back then, I thought of myself as a photographer. Now, the camera can do it all for you if you let it, and sometimes I do, although the "eye" is still mine.

Anybody can do it now. Some of us just happen to have a different eye. Others are very good with photo manipulation software, i.e. photoshopping. I'm not, so basically what you see in my pictures is what I saw when I shot it.

This is not to say that some of my images aren't art, but art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Some of the ones I really like, a lot of people just don't get. But other pictures that I have used as mere filler seem to really bring out the oohs and aahs in people. This happened with a couple of the images in my second photobook, Stuff in the Sand.

Most of my digital images have minimal processing done, no more than I used to do in the darkroom; a little bump in color and/or contrast, maybe a little cropping that I might not have been able to do when I got the shot. But, once in a while, I get a wild urge to play with an image and this is where software excels. As for listing what I did to a picture to manipulate it, mostly not much. A little bump in contrast and/or color is usually sufficient. If I do play with it, well then I just push a couple of buttons, select a couple of menu items, maybe toss in a couple of effects, rinse, repeat as necessary until I get something I like, then save it (hopefully I don't forget to save it). Listing those steps on a picture isn't practical as far as I'm concerned. I'm getting too old to remember all that stuff, and I'm still learning to use my PaintShop Pro software. Granted it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of PhotoShop, but I like it and it does what I want for now.

If you really gotta know what cameras I use, well, I have several old film cameras which still get used occasionally (mostly Nikons, but a Mamiya 645 too). Mostly though, I use my Nikon D90 (my newest toy) and D80, and for xmas a couple of years ago, I got a Nikon CoolPix S630. I wanted something I could take with me everywhere. I love my D90 and D80, but they're kinda big and bulky (you know, like REAL cameras).

As a professional Photographer (one who actually made a living taking pictures), I loved what I was doing and didn't really care about doing anything else. Then along came a wife, then followed a couple of kids, and I had to get a real job (being a Quality Engineer in the medical device industry pays much better money than I ever made as a photographer). For several years, my cameras either sat around collecting dust, or they were used for snapshot photography (kids growing up, travel, etc.).

Then along came digital. I fought the urge for a few years, but eventually decided to give it a try. My kids are grown and off on their own and I found myself with too much time on my hands, so, guess what. Yep, I have time for my first love again. I do it for the love of the game, but if I happen to make a couple of bucks here and there, that's cool too.

Digital photography still isn't up to film quality (unless you have thousands of bucks to invest in equipment, but it's getting there), and using a little bit of software manipulation to bump the color or contrast a bit is as legitimate as anything you can do in a darkroom. A lot of the photos in RedBubble, Flickr, JPG Magazine and other sites that I frequent go way beyond anything I ever learned to do in a darkroom (or even with software so far), and are thus pretty obviously photoshopped. I don't think they need to be further tagged.

More to come, but I don't want to bore you with too much at once.