Life behind the lens- the evolution of Acuity9

In your life there are some things that cannot be denied.

Certainly, you yourself can forget. You can put things away because of other responsibilities. You can even tell yourself “it’s no longer important, it’s expensive, time-consuming, and for what?” But there will always be a piece of you that is missing, and you’ll know it. Such is my deep relationship with photography.

I still have the first photograph I ever took. It is of my father at a flea market in Cincinnati, Ohio nearly fifty years ago. For some unknown reason that day in 1971, I understood the importance of recording time in a bottle. I begged my father to buy me the used Kodak 126 “Instamatic” on some man’s table of his hopefully sold items. “I’ll even throw in a roll of color film” he said. I’m sure I looked up at my father with hopeful eyes, and it was mine.


My father in 1971, the first picture from the first camera I ever had.

And there in lies the power of a photograph. My father passed over thirty years ago, but each time I see this image I’m transported to that happy time on a summer day of my youth.

When I was sixteen, my older sister married Greg Gillman. He was a photography student at Ohio State University where my sister met him. I remember the Minolta 35 mm he gave my sister as a gift, and we both studied it in her bedroom. Soon thereafter, he gave me my own Pentax Spotmatic, and I was amazed. I would lie in bed looking at that sleek thing, wondering what I would see through it, and I took it backpacking and rock climbing for years after that until sometime after the light meter died. Fully manual, and thousands upon thousands of photos through it- I didn’t need the light meter anymore, but I thought it was time to give myself an upgrade.

During this time Greg turned professional there in Columbus, Ohio, where he has remained decades later, and to this day, as an accomplished, highly sought after and regarded photographer (http://www.gillmanphoto.com, www.facebook.com/gillmanphoto) Throughout the years I was lucky enough to work for him and learn color enlarging and printing in the dark room, and also equip myself more and more. He gave me a Vivitar 16×20 black and white enlarger, and I bought a bulk film loader and a zillion 35mm cassettes, and went through spool upon spool of Ilford black and white film. Anyone who knew me in high school always saw me with the Spotmatic, or later, a new Nikon EM with a motor drive around my neck. As soon as I finished a roll, I’d have it developed and printed in my basement dark room within forty-five minutes, and I did that all the time.

Since my teens I’ve had at least one Nikon by my side, and the accompanying glass as I could afford it or borrow it from Greg. My first solo professional gig was in 1981 when I was nineteen, and contracted by a band made up of some friends, also their first time as professionals, playing at the long gone Sheraton hotel in downtown Columbus. They played long and hard, but no one listening- and there were many, seemed to be enjoying it. I asked one of my friends what that was about. “They are a meeting of a deaf organization.” my friend said. Ah- first gigs…

My twenties found me in Miami with a used Beseler color enlarger and analyzer, again from Greg, with a Jobo roller for color development. Those days in the eighties are finally getting blurrier, but I distinctly remember that Jobo junk being a pain in the ass. I ran five-hundred times more black and white film through that enlarger than I ever did color. I shot mainly head shots of girls I worked with, in studio and out, all hopeful young ladies looking for fame- and in Miami, they could find it. I broke my Nikon EM during that time, and bought another, as well as a Nikon FM. I also obtained a Nikonos II, with a separate Sekonic light meter in a housing for my frequent SCUBA dives.

On the weekends I was putting myself through flight school- the reason I relocated from Ohio, and I would take a camera up each time out over the Everglades. Turquoise waters and the Everglades several thousand feet below made for magical photos. I’d show them to all who wished to see, and I was eventually asked by an acquaintance of a friend- a land developer, to start taking pictures of his developments. I found myself frequently flying over Miami taking development pictures, so often in fact, I thanked the man for the business, but asked him why so often, when nothing had appreciably changed. “I just want to see if my plumbers are showing up.” he said. Hey- whatever pays the flight bills. I once had a client request aerial photos of the Miami Grand Prix- something I had to gain FAA approval for as the cars raced through the streets of downtown Miami. I remember the buildings whizzing by as the Nikon’s motor drive whirred away- there was no one else doing that on that particular day.

Eventually I found my way back to Columbus and began taking oblique photos from the air for many land developers, the occasional attorney, and the Jack Nicklaus Golf Calendar company over the Muirfield tournament for several years until they hired the much quieter Goodyear or MetLife blimps. I’d amuse myself on replays of the tournament at home as I could hear the engine of the Cessna 172XP diving and banking for shots, now using a medium format Mamiya 645 with a winder and a Nikon F4 as backup, while the commentators whispered to the audience. During preflight, there is one screw to remove in a Cessna window to release a brace and allow wind pressure to hold the window full open and parallel to the wing, and I’d hold the camera with the lens out the window, bank the plane and yaw slightly to keep the strut out of the image frame, check the viewfinder and let the winder of the camera loose. I’d have the camera shutter set for at least 1/500th, so each run only took a few seconds- all quite easy, really.

During this time I also again worked for Greg on and off at many weddings behind the video camera viewfinder, and in the dark room during holiday printing rushes. I also worked in commercial one-hour print processing, often spending more time repairing the Fuji machines than operating them. I had access to the latest equipment and used it often for portraits and numerous events, including video camera operation contracted for the New York City Marathon.

Nikons, Nikonos’s, Mamiyas, and countless rolls of film, and then, they were gone. The digital age was upon us. A crisis, really, for the professional. Grainy, blurry imaging equipment made for the “quick fix”. Film still reigned superior for years, but it was a new age with no real knowledge then of where it would go or how fast. Or how expensive. I was among the first seven in Columbus, Ohio to get the first Sony Mavica- an atrociously expensive wonder of convenience and utility, if not a blurry little bugger. Yet we all smiled through those early years as we ignored the blatant ugliness of our quick images with the amazement, just as how those who held the first Polaroids must have felt.

Thankfully, the Internet was equally in its youth, and both their technologies matched in such a way to portray those simple images as “beautiful”. I operated a popular travel destination web site in that period of years making the floppy disk Mavica- and its soon to follow heir apparent- the “memory stik” Mavica, indispensable, as the Nikons gathered dust in the closet. Eventually- and it took years, the crisis of the death of the 35mm- and its associated precision imaging equipment and lenses, slowly were reborn, but not in time for the masses to remember.

With the parallel advent of the camera-impregnated smartphone, with their ever-growing megapixel sensors, almost an entire generation of human beings have gone by that never knew what it was like to own something of quality and precision to take images rich in tones and color. Smartphone cameras are phenomenal, yet don’t hold a candle then or now in the capability of what an expensive lens can muster. They don’t do that, and never will. There simply is a line drawn where the realization of what real lenses, and now, digital cameras will afford in image quality. Film may be dead- despite discussions of a recent resurgence, but the quality of a contemporary, fine digital camera, with a fleet of commensurate quality lenses, makes the best smartphone image pale in comparison.

But what about cost? The “crisis” of the coming of inexpensive digital imaging crushed the businesses of the major camera makers, with many barely hanging on. There are many articles available that will detail that for you, but the outcome is that now a quality camera with lenses cost many thousands of dollars, a result of supply and demand. No longer can camera makers rely on the numbers of consumers they once enjoyed. Their technological advancements have once again placed them clearly at the top of image quality, but their prospective owners are gone. Those of us left that know the difference in quality, and still hold that important, bear those costs. And some of us are for hire.

And so it goes. I’ve had a long relationship with the camera, held them in my hands and hefted their fine glass at obscene angles and in lighting that I took the time and pain to enjoy and project, much of it at for my own satisfaction, but often for others too who trusted and paid for my vision, my time and the emptiness of my wallet to record their moments in time.

I am extremely well equipped in the studio and in the field, with a great deal of the the finest cameras, lenses, lighting equipment and post-production tools available for your images, and have walked the miles it takes in presenting those images for you.

I’m not done yet.