With several weddings and a few portraits under my belt working for Allen Crenshaw at his studio in Denison, Texas, I felt fairly confident in photographing more people. Allen and I had also done some amazing things with the historic side of photography but my full time job was calling. We pulled up stakes and moved to New Jersey, of all places. It was a two year assignment and I figured my only chance to visit the Northeast US. Our little town was a short train ride away from New York City. My wife was thinking about Broadway, plays, museums and sites to see. I was thinking B&H Photo, Adorama and all the other camera stores! We spent many Sundays cruising to the various camera stores and buying used equipment to grow my arsenal.
I was thinking I wanted to teach basic photography classes but was not sure I knew the correct flow, the lesson plan to keep it organized. Cindy and I signed up for a basic photography course being taught by a local professional there in New Jersey. I took extensive notes, learned a few things, but my goal was to get a good outline so I could do the same. My job in New Jersey was very time intensive so I had very little free time but we did manage to get out and visit the states in the area, all except Rhode Island. Missed that one for a few years. We put a darkroom in the basement of the old house we bought there and I get to get my hands in the soup again. I found a local camera store to keep my darkroom supplied giving me a pastime between long work hours. One day, while at the local camera shop, I stumbled across a new book, "Wilderness Photography" by Boyd Norton. I had never heard of him but flipping thru it, I was intrigued. Bought it and read it. I read it several times. Seemed strange to read an instructional book more than once but this was a special book, an outline for field photography far from the comfort of your vehicle and an overlook. I loved that book and have to admit that I read it maybe 4 times while living in New Jersey. I wanted to meet Boyd. He seemed like the type of person I would understand and get along with but he lived in Colorado. I was in New Jersey. At the end of that two year assignment the business in New Jersey was sold and I was offered a position in Denver. Having lived in Colorado once before, we jumped at the chance to move back west and to the Rockies.
To make extra money for new camera gear, we shot weddings and portraits. I also started teaching basic photography, doing small workshops and leading photo outings. I had a fairly good following among several camera clubs in the Denver area and usually filled the classes. I also got paid to do classes for some of the clubs at their meetings, basic 90 minute sessions. Things were going well and I had my new office out in the foothills west of Denver working in a research center.
My office at work had bare walls. It needed photographs, my photographs. I put up 5 or 6 images and got some nice compliments. I was also told by the office manager that there was a lady working in the Research Library who's husband was a photographer. I didn't think much of it but the next time I was in the library I looked around and found a name plate on the desk of Barbara NORTON! I walked up to her and introduced myself and asked if her husband's name was Boyd? She said, "Why, Yes! Do you know him?" I answered, "No, but I would love to meet him." We made arrangements to have dinner together sometime soon. WOW! What kind of luck was that? We invited Boyd and Barb to our house for dinner one Saturday evening. I had forgotten that Cindy had to work that Saturday and would not be home until about 6. Boyd and Barb were going to be at our house about 6:30 so I would have to cook. I really wanted to make a great first impression with a superb dinner, so about two that afternoon, I started on the cooking. The area we lived in had a lot of new construction going on with houses springing up all over the place. About 2:15 the power went off. The range and oven were electric. I figured it would be OK, the power would come back on any minute; this had happened before. About 5 with still no power, I went out onto our deck and fired up the gas grill. Eventually, I cooked the entire meal on the gas grill including baking bread in a cast iron dutch oven set inside the grill. I met Boyd and Barb out in the front yard with a camping lantern. We ate by candlelight, flashlight and whatever else we had that could put off light. Boyd walked around the inside of the house with a lantern looking at my images. About 9 pm, the power came back on. Great first impression! Boyd made several comments about my photos then recommended that I attend one of his workshops. I really wanted to do that. I got info on his workshops and found the one I wanted. It was held in Colorado at a ranch near Steamboat Springs. The price was $1200 (1983 dollars). That was a lot for our growing family of four. I signed up anyway at the urging of Cindy.
The workshop was scheduled for May, Springtime in the Rockies. Boyd said I could ride up and back with him. With a couple of six packs on ice we started the three hour drive up to the ranch. We had also laid in provisions of jerky but that was gone by the time we got to Granby. Had to stop for gas anyway and the convenience store sold some great elk jerky. We were on our way. Boyd had an "assistant" at the workshop, Les Line, editor of Audubon magazine. I was totally impressed. About a year earlier I had bought a very old 500mm lens, a 1968 vintage Soligor 500 f/5 with a massive lens cap, sort of like a medium sized dog dish. I had tested that lens and it was sharp, very sharp. I took it along. The first day of the workshop, we were given an assignment, "Photograph Spring", and told to turn in our images by Friday afternoon, 10 - 12 slides depicting the subject. I brought out my lenses and F-1's. Les looked at the 500 and said, "You just haul that around to show off. You don't really use it do you?" I said, "Les, I am going to shoot my assignment with three lenses, the 500, my 20mm and a 50 macro." We made a little side bet that I could not do the assignment with only three lenses and definitely not the 500mm monster. We had overnight service on slide developing by a lab in Denver. Every morning someone from the ranch drove the film to the Steamboat airport where it was put into a courier bag and flown to be picked up in Denver. Every afternoon, the processed film was returned to Steamboat the same way. That was speedy! See what you are missing shooting digital?
Friday afternoon came and we turned in our images. Each person had slots to put their slides into in a tray. Not knowing who's images he was reviewing, Les ran thru all the images a couple of times, once fast and the second time more slowly. He finally said, "If I were picking a group of slides for the magazine, it would be this set. Who's are these?" I raised my hand. He looked at me and said, "Uh oh. We had a side bet didn't we?" I said, "Yep!" He went thru the images one at a time and said, "500, 50, 500, 20, 20, 500..." until he had seen them all. Then he looked at me and said, "You shot the entire assignment with those three lenses." I replied, "That's what I said I was going to do." He just shook his head and said, "Great job." I was elated. Not only had he liked my images the best but I had done what I told him I was going to do that first day.
Saturday was "Light Table day". We had been told to bring slide sheets from home, representative of our photography for review on the light table with Les. Les Line was a hardened editor. He had seen so many images that unless it struck him between the eyes, he would pass over some good images. He also was very frank about his comments, sometimes almost cruel. Several people were almost in tears coming out of the sessions on Saturday. After about 6 people came thru the process and emerged, we looked at their faces and were all afraid to go in, fearing that we would be told to take up knitting or worse. My time came. I walked in with my folder full of slide sheets, laid them on the table next to Les. He looked at me and said, "I don't need to look at yours." I was shocked and afraid of what was next. Geeze, should I sell my gear and find another hobby? What the heck was he saying? I looked at Les inquisitively and he said, "Your images are excellent. Too bad you live in Colorado. I get tons of photographs of Colorado, the Rockies, the mountains and the west and if I see another image taken in Yosemite I am going to scream!" I asked what he meant about me living in Colorado. He replied, "There is so much going on in the plains, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and I can't find a good photographer there. They all want to shoot in Colorado. If you lived in the plains, I would give you an assignment today!" I was really floored. Me? An assignment from Audubon magazine? I had a new lease on life and on photography.
The workshop ended. I was really down. I had just spent one of the greatest weeks of my life at that workshop and it was over. I wanted to go back. How to come up with the money? I needed more photo equipment. The car needed new tires. The kids needed new shoes, clothes, school supplies. Cindy and I decided to set aside some money every month for Boyd's Wyoming workshop the next year. The Wyoming workshop was held in a much more rustic setting and was much cheaper, less than $800 for the weeklong event. About three weeks after getting home from the Steamboat workshop, Boyd called me and said, "I really liked the way you helped some of the less experienced photographers at the workshop." I replied, "It was fun. I like teaching the basic stuff." He replied, "I want you to go to my Wyoming workshop next year." I said, "We were just discussing it and how to save money so I could go." Boyd said, "I want you to be my assistant." Wow! Now that was an honor but I still wondered if I could afford it so I asked, "How much will it cost?" Boyd replied, "Maybe you don't understand, but I am going to pay you." That didn't immediately sink in. Getting paid to do something you love? How weird is that??? I would have paid part of my way just to be there but here is a strange deal, getting paid to go to a workshop. I was both shocked and honored. To be really honest, I didn't want to scream out loud but this was just too good to be true. Boyd and I talked it over and made a deal!
I have many vivid memories of those workshops in Wyoming. They were, quite simply, a BLAST. We, Boyd and I, worked together well as a team. I did a lot of the field stuff and some classroom and Boyd did the serious classroom and some of the field instruction. We built on each others strengths and gave not only first rate photo instruction but also a great experience. The Wyoming Workshops were held at a place called the University of the Wilderness in the Snowy Range. Back then, the Snowy Range was a little know place that thousands of people drove right past on their way to Yellowstone and the Tetons. Most people had no clue what they were missing. Only a few hours from Denver, it was almost the private playground of the folks in Laramie and the University of Wyoming. The road across the Snowy Range is closed in the winter and for good reason! The place gets pounded with feet of snow. The road really suffers and is worked on almost annually which brings up a really funny moment. The lodge we used had no real plumbing except for the kitchen. There was a central bathhouse with 6 showers. On the door outside was a holder with a sign marked "Men" on one side and "Women" on the other. if no one was inside, the sign was in a pocket on the door. If a man went inside, you just pulled out the sign and hung it with "Men" showing. When you left, you put the sign back. One evening about 5pm one of our male workshop participants went to take a shower, set up the sign and got undressed and into the huge open shower area. A few minutes into his shower he heard other showers turning on and knew he had been joined. Washing the soap out of his hair, he opened his eyes and there were four nice looking young ladies in there showering with him. OH GEEZE! He turned away from them, rinsed off and got out. He checked the door and sure enough it said, "Men".
That evening at dinner he told about what had happened to him in the shower. The lodge manager started laughing. It seems the road crew sign girls (Slow signs) were all coeds at the University of Wyoming up working on the highway that summer and wanted to shower before going to a party down in Laramie. The lodge manager had sent them to the shower house without thinking that one of us would be in there. He also failed to explain the sign protocol. We all thought it was funny but you could see the envy in every man's eye in the room. The next night precisely at 5pm the shower was full of guys, waiting for the road crew. No show.
On one excursion into the wilds of the Snowy Range, we had hiked into a remote lake and were photographing the wildflowers on the hillside adjacent to the shallow alpine lake. Boyd had a brand new Nikon F2 with a motor drive sent to him by Nikon to test and keep. He had just finished shooting a bunch of Columbine flowers and sat the camera down, turned away and heard a thump, thump, thump. He turned to watch as the brand new Nikon F2 and motor drive rolled down the hillside and into the shallow water. We scrambled down to get it. It was drowned. The lens was totally flooded and ruined. We took the camera back and dried it best we could, blowing it with a hairdryer. The camera finally had one shutter speed that worked but nothing else worked. The motor drive was dried but not functional. Boyd sent it back to Nikon and said it quit working. They never questioned anything and sent him another new camera and motor drive. That lake was henceforth known as Nikon Lake. I marked it as such on my maps.
For eleven years, Boyd and I did workshops together. Those were fun times. Photography was still something difficult to understand. Automatic was a transmission choice in cars but not in cameras; yet. At the end of the eleven year run we both decided that the automatic trend in cameras was going to be the end of our workshops. We had people at our last workshop who said they didn't care about f-stops and shutter speeds because they had automatic Minolta's. Those same Minolta's had autofocus. We could hear them whining away in the field trying to find something to focus on. I despised Minolta and their slogan, "Only from the Mind of Minolta." Those Minolta shooters attending the workshops fought focus issues, exposure issues yet the mind of Minolta was going to save their bacon. Yeah, RIGHT! During those eleven years, Boyd and I became great friends and we did a workshop for Smithsonian Tours out of Washington, D. C. We were treated like royalty and it was a fun workshop. But, the automatic world of photography was on the upswing. Canon and Nikon had jumped on the bandwagon as well. It was time to move on. Boyd did one more workshop without me then stopped doing them altogether. He started leading trips across the pond, to various places that seemed strange and out of reach for me. I had never been out of the US except to Canada and brief excursions into Mexico along the border.
Next - More moves, more photography