It came to me recently that I’ve spent the last 55 years of my life peeking at the world through
the viewfinder of a camera. Now, one might think that this would make everything look very
small, give me a very narrow look at life. But the contrary is true. Through photography, and
the use of many cameras over the years, I have seen more and been more aware of what’s going
on around me than I ever would have been otherwise. I find myself constantly looking for
interesting subjects, unusual objects, strange or funny-looking people just so I can capture them
photographically. To me, the world and all that lies within is one big photo opportunity.
My odyssey started in 1952 when my father, Keith Emmert, came home one day with a small
35mm camera that his brother-in-law had helped him purchase. My uncle, Stanley Thomas,
was a remarkable man who was the part owner of several drug stores in Merced, California
(Valley Drug). Uncle Stanley was remarkable in that he had one of the coveted Leica dealer
franchises and sold only high-end cameras out of his drug stores. It was from him, and through
my father, that my interest in photography got started.
My first photographic subjects were things around the house and yard, and then I branched out
into our neighborhood. I took a few pictures of friends at school and then one day it happened.
I was actually asked to take pictures for somebody else! One of the Air Force Staff Officers in the
ROTC office was getting married and he wanted me to take photos of the ceremony – and without
flash. This was about 1956. The best film I had available was Anscochrome 100 push-processed
to ASA 400 with dire consequences to any and all in front of the camera’s lens. But I did it
and, though the bride looked like she had 5 O’clock shadow in most of the slides, the happy
couple liked what I did.
Following that there were a number of other special events and some personal portraits to keep
me moving forward in this new world. I soon went into the Air Force on active duty and my
parents gave me a Zeiss-Ikon “Contina” 35mm camera so I could capture my military experience.
Instead, I soon got married to my wife, Hope, and used the camera to capture a lot of the fun of
starting out a new life together.
As the years passed quickly by, I became fascinated by all of the tools and techniques of
photography. I experimented with pin hole cameras, all sorts of close-up equipment, and even
took a class in Astrophotography so I could experience using a huge tele lens. All I can remember
about that was how bitter cold it was in the observatory in Winter with the roof open to the heavens.
As many photographers do, I tried my hand at wedding photography, promising myself at the
beginning to quit if it ever became just “work” and held no more interest or excitement for me.
It took 7 years before I finally “overdosed” on happiness. I just couldn’t take it anymore.
I also designed, built, and was nearly sealed inside of a photo darkroom for 10 years during that
period. There, I processed and printed negatives from Minox and Rollei 16 through 4”X5” plates.
I also developed and processed color prints using every known system available at the time. And
then one day it stuck me. Here I am, sealed in a dark, nearly airless box, breathing harsh fumes,
and staining my fingers for many of the best years of my life! All too soon I’d be in another dark,
airless box so my remaining years should be spent elsewhere if possible. I walked out into the
light and never went back….a good decision.
One of the highlights of my photographic life occurred during this period. My father was teaching
photography at the Fresno (CA) City College at that time and one day I visited him at his campus
office. There with him was a short, bearded, pleasant man who my father introduced me to. It was
Ansel Adams who had also dropped by for a visit. That was quite a thrill, for both my father and I.
I am surrounded by a number of prints by Ansel Adams in the room where I am writing this.
About 10 years ago I became interested in digital photography. I went to an exhibition of digital
prints in Palo Alto, CA, where the future of photography was there for all to see. The photographer
had, using A 4”X5” view camera with a special scanning digital back producing 120MB output files, printed huge photos of mountain and forest scenes where every pine needle on every tree was individually
defined and razor sharp. The gallery was filled with awe-struck people and every one of us there knew we were looking at the future of image capture and processing. Film was definitely threatened by this new technology.
I went out and purchased my first digital camera, an Olympus D-340R which I still have. I think it
produces images with just over 1MP resolution, but it was exciting to use. Since then I have purchased
and used a number of other digital cameras, my latest being a Leica D-Lux 3 with 10MP resolution.
But I got spoiled that day in the Palo Alto gallery. Some day I want a digital camera with over 250MP of
resolution, too. But I can wait and enjoy the steady advance of technology in the mean time.
Along the lines of advancing technology, I came across an article recently by Friese Greene printed in
“The Photographic Times and American Photographer” Vol. XVIII, No. 378, page 593, dated Friday,
December 14, 1888, in which Mr. Greene urged his readers:
Photography is not very old. There is not one-millionth part found out of what it is going
to do. So let each one who intends to experiment rest upon his own experiments and individuality. Never mind failures; it is by seeking and fumbling we learn the truth. So don’t let
any one sit down and think there is nothing to do in photography.
I believe this very much. So I’m never without a camera, carrying one in a belt loop case wherever
I go, seeking and fumbling at times, but always growing in knowledge and experience. And day by
day, my world is enlarged, not narrowed, by what I see by peeking into my viewfinder. This wonderful journey of discovery continues…
©Copyright 2007, Fred Emmert
Note from CameraBooks.com – Fred Emmert is a long time friend and customer whom we have never seen without one of his many cameras. We originally met Fred 12 years, or so, ago and have stayed constantly in touch. He is now retired from Hewlett Packard and is enjoying his new found freedom to photograph as much as he wants (not that he didn’t do that before). Fred is a very advanced photographer that has done weddings professionally. But mostly he is just like most of us, learning by experience and enjoying every minute of it. Thanks also to Hope . . . a very supportive wife. On August 14th, they will have been married 47 years. Hope went through many years of cameras and darkroom time . . . retirement and the computer have made life, I’m sure, a new and continued good experience.