Mobirise Web Site Builder

An Incomplete Picture

by Tim McKay

I have been taking still photographs for as long as I can remember. The fascination began when I was very young. I don’t know how young, but when we lived in Marion Virginia, our next door neighbor owned Greer’s Studio, the only photography studio in the town. I remember all the equipment and the magic of the chemicals on the paper that created a print from the negative. I was nine when we moved from Marion and one of first things I asked my dad for, after we got settled in Lewisville North Carolina, was a darkroom.

It was rustic and small, but it was what mattered - light tight. I spent hours in there, learning to spool the film onto the reel. Mixing chemicals to make the soup. Then experimenting with different techniques to turn light into images on the paper. It was my photographic baptism. 

At the age of ten, I had harnessed light, but I was far from understanding photography.

By the time I was a teenager, we had moved to the Atlanta area. My father worked for the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board. I think my dad always felt a little guilty for uprooting us about every 5 years and depositing us in a strange new environment. But he always tried to find ways to “fix” it. For me, the fix was the darkroom. He dutifully rebuilt my sanctuary in the basement of the house on Linkwood Lane in DeKalb County. This time it was bigger and better. And when I turned sixteen and started looking for a job, he introduced me to Don Rutledge and Knolan Benfield, the staff photographers at the Home Mission Board.

That introduction was the start of a career that has now spanned my adult life. What they taught me was better than any textbook. Don’s reputation was well established by the time I met him. As a photographer, he was a quiet, almost invisible, fly on the wall – an observer of intimate moments, which produced rare glimpses into the lives of his subjects. As a mentor, Don was quick-witted and full of wisdom he loved to share. 

Knolan was a perfectionist. His attention to detail in the studio and the darkroom taught me techniques that would last a lifetime - techniques that he insisted needed to become second nature, so you could free yourself to be an artist.

They both introduced me to the masters – Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Diane Arbus, Man Ray, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, W. Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans, to name a few.

All had harnessed the light, but in vastly different ways and toward vastly different ends. All photographers bring with them life experiences, expectations, and opinions that influence their work. For me, photography has been a journey. I believe my photographic eye helps me see the world more intensely, but photography has taught me so much more.

For me, life is an incomplete picture.

And, nothing lasts forever . . . unless of course you take a picture.

So that is what I do.