Friday, August 3, 2012
One couple’s photographic journey
"... Scott and Tammy perform with a passion that has successfully endured since their graduation in the early 1980s.” – O. Rufus Lovett
LONGVIEW Tammy Cromer comes from a family of entrepreneurs — women and men who owned auto repair garages, cantinas, beauty salons and import companies. So, at 15, she came across a copy of Rolling Stone magazine and decided she wanted to be a photographer.
Scott Campbell was raised on Long Island, NY, until the age of 14 when his family moved 1,500 miles southwest to Clarksville in Red River County, where his mother’s family was raised. Scott says the rural school system didn’t know what to do with him since he was a bit more advanced. He spent a lot of time in study halls until the administrators discovered he had developed film and made prints in shop classes in Long Island. Scott quickly became the yearbook photographer.
Scott’s grand-uncle was one of the founders of Kilgore College. So, in the early 1980s, he enrolled in that community college’s commercial photography program. It was run, then and now, by a fellow named O. Rufus Lovett.
Tammy also decided to attend Kilgore College after graduating from Pine Tree High School. That is where she met Scott. Rufus introduced them, and eventually they married.
Both graduated with commercial photography degrees. Scott’s original plan was to head to Dallas and become an assistant to an established commercial photographer. He wanted to learn the craft and what he terms “the normal workflow” of commercial photography. But someone associated with Annie’s Attic, then an arts and crafts publishing company in Big Sandy, noticed his work hanging at Kilgore College. Scott was offered a job as a photographer with the company which also promised him the opportunity to learn more about the craft.
That was nearly 30 years ago. The company, Annie's Attic, has changed hands and expanded a number of times. Scott is now director of digital imaging for Annie’s Attic. Photography is a small segment of his job. The majority of his work is video based. In addition, he color balances the printing presses the company uses to print its magazines, which include Creative Knitting, Card Maker and Crochet World.
While Tammy’s first job was as manager and catalog photographer for Strictly Petites in downtown Kilgore, both ended up working for competing how-to craft publishing companies based in Big Sandy and owned by former spouses — Tammy at the Needlecraft Shop and Scott at Annie’s Attic. After eight years, Tammy (now Cromer-Campbell) opened her own photography business, at first in their home and then in her present studio in downtown Longview in 1998 — TCC Photo Gallery & Productions.
Her professional work has evolved over the years, as it has for many professional photographers, with the growing popularity of inexpensive digital cameras and software. Tammy moved into video five years ago and started focusing on corporate photography, producing images for area companies and charitable events. The Longview Chamber of Commerce named her this year’s Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year.
For both Tammy and Scott, commercial photography and video pays the bills. Their passion is fine arts photography.
“Rufus instilled a passion in us for the West Coast photographers. We started taking workshops from West Coast photographers,” Tammy said, including John Sexton and Ruth Bernhard.
Later, Tammy became enamored with a cheap plastic camera that leaks light and looks like a child’s toy. The Holga sells for about $30 on Amazon.com. It uses 120mm film. The results are unpredictable. The plastic lens darkens the image around the edges, called vignetting.
One reason Tammy became self-employed was that it allowed her to follow one of her passions — documentary photography. With the Holga, she began documenting residents in Winona, a tiny community about 30 miles west of Longview, and the health effects a toxic waste facility was having on its residents. The result was a book published in 2006 — Fruit of the Orchard: Environmental Justice in East Texas. It featured her photographs and essays by Phyliss Glazer, who led the fight to close the plant.
“Since the camera is so low tech, you feel that whatever it gives you is a gift,” Tammy said. “I love the soft focus. I love the light streaks.”
Her passion for the Holga resulted in her being chosen as one of 10 Holga Inspire photographers nationally, with an exhibit that started in Bangkok and then came to her gallery in Longview before heading to New York.
Her next project, about which she can’t say much yet, is an upcoming commission to document a community similar to Winona.
For soft-spoken Scott, his fine art photography is a way to “keep me in perspective.” He shoots traditional landscape photography, primarily in East Texas with a large-format camera. His work is in the collections at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas and elsewhere.
“Traditional photography keeps me grounded,” he said. He develops his sheet film, usually 4x5 inches, then scans in the negatives to make prints using Photoshop. When using the software, he only uses the tools one would use in a traditional darkroom, which is different than when doing commercial work.
Recently, he bought an 8x10 inch camera on eBay built in the 1930s, though he is unsure what he is going to ultimately use the camera to photograph. And finding film may eventually prove difficult, though it is still being manufactured, but in smaller quantities. “It’s not easy being a dinosaur,” he jokes.
He is clearly fascinated by the camera, which was built for the Navy.
“There is no telling what it has seen,” he said.
Large format cameras — especially the 8x10 — force him to be very methodical. “You have to have that process down in almost a military action,” he said. “You have to have that process down like the back of your hand… Otherwise, you’ll get consumed in that and won’t be able to photograph.”
Both Tammy and Scott acknowledge that they differ markedly in their approach to fine art. Scott says, “I try not to purposely go into a project headstrong. I try to let projects find me.” He cites as an example a series of photographs taken in his mother’s house after she died, a powerful project that came about practically by happenstance as he took his father back to the family home in Clarksville time and again.
Tammy is certainly more project oriented, excited about her upcoming commission. She jokes about, one day, switching cameras with Scott, having him shoot with the Holga while she uses a 4x5. Scott jokes that once Tammy thinks of a project, she gives it a title, “almost buys a box to put the photographs in she hasn’t made yet, and then works toward that goal.”
Lovett (profiled elsewhere in this issue) is understandably proud of his former students. “Scott and Tammy are two of our finest testaments to the Kilgore College photography program,” he said. “Our photography agenda addresses issues in both applied and fine art genres of the medium. Scott and Tammy perform with a passion that has successfully endured since their graduation in the early 1980s.”