a former shepherd of the group, who now lives in New Mexico wrote,
"Jack (Wherry) and Bob (Mathews) invited me to attend a meeting.
Joining the Custom Camera Club was the best thing I could have
not only a strange name for a town, it is stranger still that
it is the location of a camera club that has been around for15
years. The Custom Camera Club was initially formed by students
of James M.
proprietor of Custom Camera, a retail photographic business located
on Main Street, Tomball, Texas, roughly 40 miles NW of Houston.
tells the story as follows : My
journey to Tomball began after four years as a Marine during
WWII, and study at the Art Center School of Los Angeles, where
impressions and friendships were made by staff members, Will Connell,
George-Hoyningen-Huene, and C.K. Eaton. School was followed by
in New York, Minneapolis, Washington, Houston, Chicago and Tomball.
way, I met and became friends with some wonderful people,
not all photographers, but all communicators. In New York there
Rothstein, Frank Schershel, Joe Costa, John Reedy, Ed Hannigan,
Stan Kubick and Hal Power.
was in Minneapolis that people and events really
hold of my photographic future. The list includes Cliff Edom and
of Missouri Photo Workshop, Bill Steven, executive editor of the
Star and Tribune, Russ Lee, Wint Lemmon, Art Witman, Bob Dumke,
Bill Lookadoo, Wilson Hicks, Ed Purrington and Milt Caniff.
By the time
I reached Tomball in 1970, I had been director of
for the National Geographic, still photo pool coordinator for
U.S. manned space program, and numbered among my friends some
of the finest
editors and photojournalists in the world. That friendship extended
to many U.S. astronauts.
Wint Lemmon (while his profit sharing and stock
were growing at Kodak) wrote and questioned my ability to hold
However, my new friends and neighbors of Tomball and the surrounding
Houston area hardly mentioned any part of my career except the
After I opened
the Custom Camera store, John Morris wrote that
Schershel and I were the only two professional photographers he
owned camera shops. Leica cameras and other equipment manufactured
Leitz of Wetzlar, Germany, made up most of the store's inventory.
business died with the "oil bust" of the 1980s.
good years of Custom Camera, I taught six-week classes,
"Be a Better Photographer," two or three times a year. When I
at the close of a class, in April 1986, that it would be my last
the class members gravitated to a local watering hole and at the
of one student, decided they would form a camera club consisting
former students. The name was a natural - the "Custom Camera Club."
I said, "You can meet in my studio, but I do not plan to be a
or to participate in the club's activities."
In less than
three months, I was as involved as any member,
primarily to the persuasion of Hal Power. Hal was a former New
photographer, who had gained international recognition as a Shell
public affairs executive. He
and I first met in New York in 1949 when I was a member of the
Magazine staff. The introduction was arranged by Arthur Rothstein,
technical director for LOOK magazine and one of Roy Stryker's
stars" of the 1930s Farm Security Administration photographers.
Incidently, our Tomball was later the subject of Stryker's
when he assigned the oil town as a Texaco photographic project.
to Houston from New York, when Shell moved its national
Power and I share another common bond - the University of
Photo Workshop and Cliff Edom, its founder. But, it was not until
1982 when Hal's health (he had been a prisoner of war in Germany
WWII) forced him to retire from Shell that we discovered we were
neighbors and had been for several years.
Camera Club's organizational meeting and at the insistence
of Dennis Blackman, an "oil patch engineer," the club members
agreed that the club would be mostly "unstructured" and meet monthly
in the Custom Camera studio. They elected a chair, Ruth Hart,
teacher from a nearby public school district. It was also decided
per year would be reasonable for postage, coffee fund, etc., since
and utilities were free.
was stressed as the real criteria for continuing as
For the benefit and mutual enjoyment of everyone, all assignments
be photographed on 35mm transparency (slide) film and the finished
viewed by projection.
As the activities
of the Custom Camera Club grew, Hal Power
I became "co-gurus," offering both technical and esthetic support
members. Quickly, it became standard procedure for one or both
photographic assignments for each meeting and to help plan field
have been designed to provoke group interest in an
range of subject matter. Much more than "people, places and things,"
Custom Camera Club members are asked to illustrate themes - i.e.,
loyalty, stress and other human emotions, plus abstracts such
patterns, either natural or man-made. Add to that the four
national holidays, and one begins to realize that there is no
The rewarding factor is that we have a group of people determined
to do their very best on a specified assignment and the evaluation
can be focused on "apples vs. apples." In all cases the basic
of photography, lumped herein under the term of technique, are
I been able to master the technique of Walter Huen,
formerly of E.Leitz, when critiquing the work of others. Walter
his audience by saying, "It is unfortunate that the lighting,
etc., etc." Rather, my critiques and occasionally those of Hal's,
some stinging observations, "always meant for the group and never
to be personal." One club member recently said to me, "Every time
my eye to the viewfinder, I hear your voice giving pointers and
It annoys the hell out of me, but I really don't mind. I'm a
photographer for having listened."
ago, members presented Power with a set of oversized
cropping "L's" because he is always suggesting ways to improve
see better possibilities by cropping the projected image.
have been limited to locations to which travel and
could be accomplished in one day. Galveston has become a favorite
At different times members have traveled by a special chartered
bus, RV's courtesy of members Dick and Marilyn Stevens, and once,
Texas Limited, a special train that ran for several years between
and Galveston. On other occasions there were car pools and designated
meeting places where the assignments were made.
trip assignments have been prepared by me and passed to
members at the chosen site. Assignments are always for critique
and me, but do not preclude self-assigned special projects.
club members, initially, were strangers to each other,
photography has served as a strong bond, resulting in many friendships
that have grown remarkably over the years. Two members, Ruth Hart
and Terry Wilson, first met at a club meeting and discovered that
works well with a camera. They have been married for several years
have moved from the area, but still maintain a close association
obviously, are 15 years older and the average
age of club members has climbed. At the outset, ages ranged between
65. The upper limit has grown past the three quarters of a century
for the co-gurus, yet the fire still burns and club members remain
to subject themselves and their work to the monthly critiques.
been print shows and exhibits, but no club work
been published until now. Many of the photographs accompanying
are the result of club assignments made by Hal or me. Each member's
experience is as varied as the professions they represent, which
range from registered nurse to engineer, from business and computer
to a public school teacher, banker, and civic leader.
One of the
newer members (only four years), Tom Snodgrass
recently, "Professionally, I am a petroleum geologist. Since retirement
I have done a considerable amount of volunteer archeology, where
as a site photographer in addition to excavation duties. Photography
is my main avenue for artistic and technical expression. The Custom
Camera Club is the only organization I know where I can get continuous
stimulation and instruction, pushing me to higher levels of technical
and artistic competence."
young through photography" could very well be the club's
motto. As Walter Huen might say, "It is just unfortunate that
bags and tripods have become so heavy."
portfolio of work accompanying this article was produced by ten
members. Each member was invited to submit up to ten photographs.
The edited selection represents the varied nature of club assignments
as well as the photographic versatility of the members.
The club photograph
was made during a recent meeting. The group is standing
in front of member Linda Ridings' studio. The recently converted
has been offered and accepted as the club's new home. In
photo (l-r) back row: Bob Mathews, George Carlson, Jim Godbold,
Arlene Edwards, Hal Power, Tom Snodgrass, Jack Wherry, John Dalnoky,
Henry Brown, Phyllis French; front rowByra Vion, Ron Kaufer, Linda
Ridings, Don French.
the Club's Photo Gallery