- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - On the first and third Tuesday of the month from October through May, a small group of amateur photographers meets at the James Memorial Art Center.

Their numbers vary. Sometimes there’s as many as twelve, other times, only two. Last month, on Nov. 18, there were three, the Williston Herald (https://bit.ly/1Ggnm6E ) reported.

Jerry Engel thumbs through a locker in the dusty, dimly lit basement of the James Memorial, through a pressed-steel locker marked “Camera Club.” He takes out an aging computer terminal, similarly marked, and gathers some cables and makes his way up the slender staircase to the gallery proper. He sets up the computer atop two folding tables arranged in the shape of a “T,” and then leans a flat screen monitor against it.

Engel is the club’s current president. He’s an older, white-haired man. He tinkers with the screen and computer for the better part of 15 minutes before getting it to work. Deborah Slade and Shannon Scott, the only two members in attendance that night, wait patiently and exchange idle conversation. In the main gallery, a group of school-aged children cheers their way through an art class. In the basement-level theater, a prayer group tunes up their instruments.

Engel finishes setting up the computer and turns on a DVD. “Fundamentals of Photography,” from the National Geographic Society. The club spends the second of their two bimonthly meetings on learning how to operate their cameras.

“Right now we’re doing a program on fundamentals of photography,” Engel says during an interview. He’s sitting in the kitchen of the JMAC. At one point, a little girl from the neighboring class walks in and watches the interview for a moment. He doesn’t seem to notice. “A lot of our members are unfamiliar with cameras.”

“I mean, I’ve taken pictures off and on, but I wanted to learn how to take pictures better and how to use a camera better,” Slade says. She joined the club last year. Currently, she’s using a Canon Power Shot, a cheaper point-and-shoot camera.

“Don’t forget, it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer,” Scott says from across the table. Scott’s a new member, but she brings considerably more experience to the table. She has a photography degree from Idaho State University and has shot freelance for newspapers off and on for the last decade. She shoots with a Nikon 300 DSLR, a workhorse middle-of-the-road camera.

Scott learned about the Camera Club from the Internet.

“I think I found them on Facebook and just thought it’d be a good way to meet people and get a new assignment,” she says. “I just think it’s great, because they have every level of photographer in the club.” The club routinely puts her outside her comfort zone as a photographer, which she likes.

“I’m here to keep my skills sharp and maybe learn something new,” she says. Scott’s lived in the area for about four years now, and the club helps her meet new people too.

Slade is on the same page, she says. She moved up to Williston about six years ago to be closer to her son.

“My son has been here for almost 20 years,” she says. “He married a girl that was born and raised here.” Slade moved here and babysat for him for a while, and decided to take up some new activities when that was finished.

“I made the decision to start doing things and to get out and meet people, and this was the way to do it,” she says. She laid out the club’s yearly activities.

The club meets on the first and third Tuesday of every month. They hold a salon on the first of the month, discussing each other’s photos, exchanging critiques and advice and selecting monthly winners for the yearly competition.

There are three categories every month, nature, an open submission category and an assigned category. The “assigned” category is assigned from the monthly theme.

“.And nature can’t have anything man made in it,” Slade says, adding that means no fences, houses or whatever.

The categories are single-word ideas, with great variation and an obvious possibility for loose interpretation. They range from “Freedom” in May, to “Liquid” in September and “Three” in December.

The entries are shared, critiqued and winners are selected during the salon on the first Tuesday of the month, Engel says. Each win, third through first place, is an assigned a point value and those wins are used to calculate the awards at the end of the year.

Photographer of the Year is the photographer who earns the most points, and the Photo of the Year is just that. The club hosts a show for this in spring. The show hosts a potluck.

Engel has perhaps the most experience with the club, having been involved with it_though not always a member_for many years now.

“I believe the club was started in the late ‘40s,” he says, adding that most of the original members are gone now. One of the charter members, now 90, is still alive.

“At our show last spring we had a display here showing his photos,” Engel says.

Engel himself has always had a friendly relationship with photography, he says. He’s been around cameras and photographers from when he was a young man until now. He’d toy around for a little and then pursue some other occupation.

“I didn’t have a camera and I didn’t take pictures for many years,” he says. This stayed true until the late 70s or early 80s, when a total eclipse of the sun renewed his interests.

“That really got me into taking pictures,” he says. “I started shooting a few pictures, just going off by myself and using a camera.”

After that, a photographer friend of his invited him to the Camera Club.

“But I didn’t join,” he says. Instead, he came to meetings then and again over the next several years before finally settling down and joining the club. Now he’s the president. He shoots with a Canon 60D, a pro-am level camera.

Other people attend the club now in much the same way he did then, popping in to meetings now and again, but never quite making the full commitment. If he minds, he doesn’t show it.

The club is about the members, he says. Throughout his interview, he repeatedly suggests not writing the story about him, but about the club and its members, as well as thanking the JMAC for allowing them to use the space.

“This is the center for visual arts in Williston,” he says.

He mentions the Williston Conventions and Visitors Bureau recently granted money that will allow the club to purchase permanent flat-screen television for displays.

They’ll mount it in the basement.

Engel suggests anybody can join, regardless of age or equipment. Some members just use their phone cameras.

“It’s kind of up to you what you want to take pictures of,” he says. “It’s a learning process. I’m learning more and more all the time. There’s challenges here.”

___

Information from: Williston Herald, https://www.willistonherald.com

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