2006-08-26 / Top News

Robert Cameron Shares Photographic Stories, Skills From an Aerial View

By Leslie Rott

Robert Cameron with an aerial photograph that he took of West Bluff cottages Cairngorm (left) and Hogg Haven on the West Bluff. He is in the living room of Hogg Haven, owned by his daughter and her husband, Jane and Richard Manoogian. Robert Cameron with an aerial photograph that he took of West Bluff cottages Cairngorm (left) and Hogg Haven on the West Bluff. He is in the living room of Hogg Haven, owned by his daughter and her husband, Jane and Richard Manoogian. At the age of 95, Robert Cameron is still doing what he loves, taking aerial photographs around the world. Visiting his daughter and sonin law, West Bluff cottagers Jane and Richard Manoogian, every summer for the past 15 years, Mr. Cameron has gained a love and appreciation for Mackinac Island, as well.

To emphasize that, he has donated one of his photographs to the Medical Center Auction on August 27.

On Mackinac Island, Mr. Cameron said, "They try to give you the feeling of 100 years ago, and I get it."

A photographer with a natural eye for composition, Mr. Cameron nevertheless admits, "The camera always sees more than I do."

In a digital age, all of his aerial photographs are taken with film, and he has published 22 aerial photographic studies from around the world, with more than three million in print, including "Above Mackinac Island," published in 1994. He published his first "Above" book, "Above San Francisco," in 1969 (he has since published three more around the city), and has chronicled areas from Alcatraz to London and Paris.

He has some interesting stories to tell about the places he has photographed.

While taking pictures of Mont Blanc in France, Mr. Cameron shot from 12,000 feet without the use of oxygen, and that, he said, proved to be a breath-taking experience. It took him 10 passes over the Washington Monument to get a perfectly vertical shot, which appears in his "Above Washington" book.

He prefers the evening light, when long shadows add dimension to his landscape portraits, and he often composes his images to include the clouds and the sky.

Among his favorites is a photograph of the Statue of Liberty framed by the World Trade Center, images of the surf energized by El Nio, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

"I guess I like things that are good looking," he said of his choice of subjects.

He jokes that he has added the letters W.O.O.A.P. to his business card, initials for World's Oldest One-eyed Aerial Photographer. Or maybe he isn't joking. But despite declining eyesight, he still has his sense of humor.

And while his daughter says an operation may give him new vision, at his age, Mr. Cameron said he is more interested now in exhibiting his work than in publishing it.

His public exhibit this summer at Grand Hotel needs 600 feet of display space, and even at the Grand, where the front porch is 660 feet long, finding a place to display everything was difficult.

His exhibit photographs are large, measured in feet instead of inches, and he enjoys observing people's reaction to them. The biggest compliment is when people say the size and clarity of the images make them feel as if they can walk

directly into the photographs. Even at six feet tall, he is dwarfed by a photograph that can be 10 feet tall.

"People are interested in aerial photography and history, and that's what my books contain," he said of the public's reception of his work.

Mr. Cameron has met many famous people, among them Ronald Reagan, Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong. The great photographer Ansel Adams, in whose darkroom Mr. Cameron has spent time, is one of his inspirations.

His hope is that in 100 years, people will look at his work as a representation of the way things were. And some will see his work much farther into the future than that, because his two most recent "Above San Francisco" books were put into a time capsule under the San Francisco City Hall and will be opened in 3000.

The large photographs at Grand Hotel will be on exhibit through October and came directly from a showing at the Presidio in San Francisco, where they were held over twice and viewed by 26,000 people from more than 39 counties. An environmental exhibit there in May will include aerial photographs from 100 years ago through the present and will include his works.

He is making arrangements to have his photographs exhibited in New York this fall.

Mr. Cameron has been taking photographs since he was 10 years old, and he began his career as a news photographer for the Des Moines Register.

Using a Pentax 6X7 cm camera and seven lenses, most of Mr. Cameron's photographs are taken from a helicopter.

At the Medical Center Auction Sunday, August 27, at Grand Hotel, one of his photographs, any scene, any size, will be auctioned to the highest bidder. The event is open to the public.

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