Tolleson, DL. “The Camera One Story.”
Tolleson, DL. “The Camera One Story.”
In whatever I expressed an interest as a child, my parents cultivated the curiosity by providing the means to pursue it.
Baseball? The YMCA had a league for which Dad went all-out and bought me a jim-dandy uniform and baseball glove (that I still have). The team was the Chargers. During practice I was a star player (but not so much during games).
Football? Again, the YMCA had a league and dad bought for me everything I asked for—even an ultra, cool-looking, Dallas Cowboy helmet. Whenever dad came out on the field for pep-talks I apparently responded quite skillfully by sacking the quarterback and contributing to touchdowns. But I typically hung back and as dad recalled years later, “When I asked the boy, ‘Why don’t you get in there?’ he told me, ‘I’m afraid I might hurt somebody.’”
Writing was something I started because I wanted to make-up a hero similar to that of Steve Austin of Cyborg fame (more familiar to the public as television’s, The Six Million Dollar Man). Before that first effort—and perhaps contributory to it—my parents kept me supplied in books throughout my youth. As mother once explained it, I had the human anatomy memorized from the encyclopedias (I used to love reading those things). Mom expressed her concern to the family doctor, saying that my nose was always in a book and as a result that nose wasn’t playing outside very often. She said his response was, “Don’t worry about it. These kinds of kids usually become doctors or writers.”
Around the age of 13 or so, and on a plane to Las Vegas I started the aforementioned, Six Million Dollar Man-like novel (which proved to be at least a two-decade effort). My parents supplied numerous typewriters, both manual and electric, as well as all the forests (typing paper) I could consume. (Home computers wouldn’t be invented for another 20 years or thereabouts.)
In the meantime, the next big thing—in high school—was when an acquaintance showed me the coolest little machine called an OM-10. It was a 35mm SLR camera made by Olympus. Talk about heaven! It felt perfect in my hands, provided a totally awesome visual experience through the viewfinder and had intricate controls that affected the outcome of photographs in numerous ways. It even smelled good!
Of course my parents bought one for me—as an unexpected and early graduation gift (they later threw in a vacation to Austin, San Antonio and NASA in Houston—on which they accompanied me). As far as the OM-10 was concerned, I later added other models (OM-G and manual adaptor, OM-1, OM-1n, OM-PC and even an ancient, non-Olympus 4x5 view camera). And then there were accessories: more lenses, top-mount flashes, a couple of side-mount flashes, two auto-winders and darkroom equipment. As time passed I learned to repair the equipment, taught myself photographic composition (which was later enhance through college instruction and complimented with learning darkroom developing.) Somewhere between my late teens and early 20s, I became a working photographer and charged for my services.
Near the beginning of all this I went to a frame shop to have framed a Christine Rosamond print. Both the font and singular sounding name of the frame company struck a chord with me. The place was named, Gallery One. I thought to myself, I’ve got one camera and I’m the only photographer I personally know: Camera One, would be a great business name and would look terrific on a card if like that sign on the framer business building.
And that’s how the name Camera One by Tolleson later came into existence. Throughout the years I have been paid to photograph just about everything imaginable—be it student pictures across the state, weddings, portraits, models, celebrity events, news, trial evidence, bodies, crime scenes, property damage and the results of photographic surveillance. I even garnered a 3
I rarely ever picked up the camera unless I was paid for it or if it wasn’t in the course and scope of photographic-related employment. And everything was by referral.
As digital photography began to grow in popularity, my work tapered off until finally I basically retired from photography. The digital age of photography was like comparing battery-powered watches with time pieces having intricate workings. I felt that skill was no longer important: Point the camera, push the button and if you don’t like the image, do it again. If you do it again and don’t like it, then clean it up in the computer. After all, with digital work going straight to the computer, one doesn’t need darkroom skills. Being pretty good with computers I felt anyone could do that sort of image work and the allure of photography was gone.
But I was only partly right. There is a difference between being a photographer and someone calling himself or herself a photographer merely because they picked-up a camera. It is like being a writer: The differences are in knowing how to control the outcome before starting and the result of that effort. Anyone can take a picture, but a photograph is an experience (which, by the way, was a promotional slogan I used to use). Having an idea of how the picture will turn out and having an eye for the use of light is still important. Having excellent equipment is still important, too.
As it happens, I have both. While film-based cameras include a handful of details to adjust, there are two constants to any given situation: An appropriate lens and film speed (both of which you can tweak for varying results). With digital-based cameras it’s a similar story. One needs a good lens and a high degree of megapixels (with “ISO” basically replacing “ASA” that’s an adjustable option). There’s more to it, of course, but if you can start with that you’re ahead of the pack. And for me personally, the beauty of the right digital equipment is that it interfaces with my “baby,” the Vivitar 365 zoom thyristor—a dinosaur of a flash offering a normal/wide/zoom head, side-mount positioning with top mount sensor and all souped-up by the Quantum NiCad battery for which I spliced together a cord for power. It probably shouldn’t work, but never fails: Through sensor and zoom flash-head adjustments it can be brute force blinding or as subtle as twilight.
Lighting is a major factor in any photograph and controlling that with the camera is what I am all about. When it comes to digital photography, I aim for restraint in altering an image once downloaded from the camera. It’s a bit of an odd notion, but I like a photograph to be the result of what I saw and did at the time I captured the image and not the result of what I later did in Photoshop to enhance it. Of course, nearly every image can benefit from black/white/gray levels improvement, increased saturation and sharpening.
In fact, as it happens, nearly every image experiences a shift in color. This means an image having too much or too little black in the shadows, white in the highlights and gray in the neutral gray. This is something even harder to correct when doing color film photography and color prints in a darkroom. (Because, for one reason, when doing chemical color processing, the paper must remain in total darkness until the chemical fixing stage and the attempted correction is completely finished before the result can be evaluated.)
Correcting color shifts in digital photography is another matter. The actual photography is only the beginning of the job. Once images are moved to electronic storage, one must correct the color shifts and render the image as closely as possible to what was experienced with the eyes. This equates to utilizing percentages of gray fill layers, adjustment layers and threshold settings in order to find the grayest, blackest and whitest portions of the image and apply corrections that affect the entire image. I won’t even get into the corrections necessary for shadows and a number of sharpening issues.
So, when I say, “I aim for restraint in altering an image once downloaded from the camera,” this isn’t to say I am restrained from working on the image. The restraint of which I speak is what is necessary to NOT make the image something it never was.
But our eyes can see way more color and detail in the shadows than a camera can document (especially if a fill flash isn’t used—particularly in broad daylight). Thus, time-consuming image correction is typically necessary in arriving at an image that was experienced at the time a camera captured the electronic version of reality.
Being a perfectionist doesn’t make it any easier.
At any rate, now that I’ve retired my film-based cameras, a Camera One endeavor means not only digital photography but also visual mediums such as web site design, canvas-based artwork or whatever else strikes my fancy after morning coffee.
And that basically, is the Camera One story.