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Every picture counts: Torrington photographer says obsession began with a box camera

September 11, 2018

TORRINGTON, Wyo. — Rob McIntosh has had an obsession with the camera for a long time.

“I’ve always been fascinated with cameras and stuff,” he said. “We had an old box camera at home, and my mother used that to take photographs long before I was born. They came out with a Brownie Hawkeye camera that she was so excited about, so she bought that and gave me the box camera.”

The box camera was a simple thing, with a button that opened the lens and exposed light to the film. Trying to find a shot was difficult because the box camera did not have a real viewfinder.

“All you saw was shadows,” he said. “You could kind of see the shadow of whatever it was.”

Having any film at all to shoot with was a rare treat.

“I was allowed a roll of film every so often and we had to use them for special occasions,” McIntosh said. “But I was still fascinated that you could point that camera at something, and you could stop that particular spot in time on film.”

When he went to college at the University of Wyoming, he took a photography course because, as the syllabus said, the university would provide cameras.

“I was one of 36 people who took the class,” McIntosh said. “There were three cameras.”

McIntosh and his classmates would take turns checking cameras out and, with the hour provided to them, take pictures. Most of the pictures ended up being taken at the university’s common era or at the cemetery across the street.

“A few of us figured out that, if we all checked it out, one right after another, then we could go somewhere,” McIntosh said. “Eventually, we had about a dozen of us that checked out one camera and took it to Vedauwoo, 20 miles out, and we all ran a roll of film through.”

Frustrated by the class, it was not until after he graduated and saved money that McIntosh bought his first camera, a single-lens reflex from Canon.

“No automatic lenses or anything,” he said. “I took pictures without my glasses, because it was easier to see in that eyepiece, but then every one of my photographs was off-focus by my prescription. It wasn’t until I got an auto-focus camera that I could take photos without using my glasses, because it would focus.”

Using film at all was a challenge. The cost of film meant that he could not waste a shot.

“Every picture you took had to count,” he said. “Obviously, you could stand there for 10 minutes and take a whole roll of film of the same thing to get one roll of shot. You’d experiment: you can do your depth of field, you can do your shutter speed, you can do your aperture setting, change your lighting somewhat, meter on the sky and then pull down and create a silhouette. It was an experiment, and I wrote down what my f-stop was, what my shutter-speed was, everything I did. I’d have all those pictures, and I’d have one or two that turned out the way I wanted it to, and I’d look back and make sure I knew how I accomplished that.”

Taking a photograph required knowing, or at least having a good idea, of the settings you needed and the right kind of film stock. And even after all that, McIntosh would not even know if he got the shot he wanted until the film was developed.

“Every time you took a picture, it was a crapshoot,” he said. “You couldn’t look at it. That was the hard part. You could take a photograph, and you didn’t know if you got it or not.”

Because the cost of film kept him from experimenting the way he wanted, it was not until the rise of modern digital photography that McIntosh started taking photography seriously. The ability to experiment with the camera’s settings and see the result instantaneously allowed him to take more of the pictures he wanted to take, of the subjects he likes to shoot. He prefers using nature for a subject.

“I like flowers, scenery, sunrise, sunset, the moon, stuff like that,” he said. “I like to be able to sit and stare at it for quite some time and compose the picture the way I want, take some pictures from different angles. That’s hard to do when it’s a person.”

A good picture, in his mind, requires focus on the subject, without a distraction in the background or foreground.

“Let’s say I take a photograph of a tree that’s changing color in the fall,” he said. “If the person who looks at it and sees something in a barn in the background, that’s distracting.”

Composition matters as well, but that becomes harder to define what is good and what is not.

“I try to compose it four or five different ways when I take photographs,” he said. “Then I pick the one that’s pleasing to me.”

McIntosh doesn’t typically shoot special events. What he does, he does for free: he doesn’t want the extra stress of trying to take pictures subject to someone else’s tastes.

“The photo that I take only has to please me to begin with,” he said. “If I take a bunch of pictures of flowers and I don’t get a flower I like, that’s no big deal. If you take a bunch of pictures of somebody’s graduation and they don’t like it, you’ve failed.”

Photography, McIntosh said, is ultimately a hobby for him.

“I don’t sell any of my stuff,” he said. “I give it away.”

Many of the photos have been sold at charity auctions, and he takes photos for the Gracie’s Promise runs. He enters his photos at the Goshen County Fair and displays them at the library in Torrington and on his Facebook page. Other than that, McIntosh’s pictures are rarely out for public display. But that’s fine: he’s doing what he likes, in the medium he enjoys.

“I got touched by the bug 60 years ago,” he said, “and I’m still fascinated by it.”

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