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Phoenix Campbell

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Salt Marsh Sunset 2

Salt Marsh Sunset 2

I seek, I wander, I watch, I am a visual scribe.

Photography has long been a passion, wavering in and out of my life at varying levels of importance and indulgence. I funded the purchase of my first camera, a Pentax Spotmatic, by giving up drugs; had enough money within 3 weeks. (It was later joined by my beloved Canon AE-1s.) I knew nothing about using it, and hounded the counter guys at the camera store with questions for months. Under the cover of a university branch campus "eradio" station I talked my way into back stage concert passes and began shooting rock and roll concerts. I became adept at available light work and quickly learned how far I could or couldn't push the old Kodak Tri-x b/w film! I consider never having owned a flash as some kind of perverse badge of technical honor!

The closest thing to formal training I've had was an apprenticeship with Sandy Underwood, the amazing performing arts (opera, ballet, theatre, et al) photographer in Cincinnati, OH. We met through a dance/poetry/photo workshop. It cost $35, cleaned out my bank account _ and was the best investment I've ever made. Sandy, as talented as she is crotchety, literally taught me everything I know. She was a wizard in the darkroom, a technical virtuoso, a genius at anticipating the shot and possessed a brilliant eye for lighting. I like to think that I absorbed a small portion of those things, mostly by osmosis, and remember her with much gratitude and fondness.

The things I learned from Sandy created two inroads for me _ a day job in a photo processing/studio business and an appetite for capturing live performances, which led to a long term gig doing documentary photography for the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

Working MWMF, a five day, morning noon and night extravaganza in the Michigan woods was a dream job. I had full access to the entire temporary "evillage" The fest covers about one square mile, and I walked miles every day, lugging about 20 pounds of equipment in the heat and dust of the Midwest August. The festival was full of firsts for me - I'd never shot E6 before, and that was mostly what they wanted. I had never done an aerial shoot before and they needed one. I had never stood inside an 8' by 8' by 40' cooking pit filled with fire wood and photo'd the roaring wall of flame that erupted with its ignition _ yet it became one of my most phenomenal shots. Four days, about 100 rolls of 36 shot film (yeah, this was the old days! 1984 -1992), covering 3 separate stages with 3-5 acts each, as well as every aspect of this world in a microcosm: workshops, craft bizarre, food preparation, health care, child care, work crews, etc. My work was used on a dozen postcards and about 20 shots appeared on the inside cover of the 1985 live double album. (Yeah, it was before cds - back when album covers were works of art with eloquent liner notes.)

The last couple years of the Michigan festival became more job than joy; it was another woman's turn to have this plum gig. By this time, the day job which had honed my black and white skills, given me the archival photo collecting/restoring bug and spoiled me forever against paying retail prices for film, developing and printing had also trashed my sense of smell and severely messed with my eye sight. I put my 35mm gear in the closet. I gave it all up, became a massage therapist, dabbled at an art degree and explored collage and assemblage.

Fast forward. My grown son, a computer geek, keeps urging me to get back into photography, even while bemoaning growing up with a camera continuously in his face. I refused. Eventually he quit listening to me and I got a Sony Cool Pix 3200 for Christmas. I've fallen in love again! It's a whole new universe _ it focuses for me, and I don't have to pay retail for film or paper or developing! (Printing I can cope with. I haven't jumped far enough into the pond to be doing my own printing, although I suspect that's not very far off! I'm anxious to use my own images in my collages.) And, here I am, back to carrying a camera with me everywhere I go. I'm even pondering finishing that BFA in photography! All who wander are not lost.


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