May 29—FREDERICK BIRD
KNOWN FOR: Freelance photographer; former photographer for state police.
HOMETOWN: Ellington. Grew up in Berkeley, California, moved to Connecticut when his father got a job doing poultry research at a research farm, at current site of Big Y, for Eastern States Farmers Exchange.
EDUCATION: Went to Paul Smith's College in New York State, then transferred to a university.
BACKGROUND: Drafted into the service where he did aerial surveillance in Germany.
INTERESTING FACT: In his early teens, trapped muskrats with a friend for Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck, which at the time were big fur buyers.They would mail in the furs and get $20-25 a pelt.
Q: Where did your interest in photography come from?
A: My grandfather. He was big into it, not processing, but just taking pictures. I had done that a lot. My best friend, Dale Rollins, and I, as juniors, we ended up getting the keys to the dark room and we did a lot of processing for the yearbooks and stuff like that.
When I went to Europe (in the Army) I bought a good camera. We were the unit that got all the required aerial surveillance and mapping for an infantry division. We had to have mapping and photographs of East Germany.
Q: Was photography what you wanted to do when you came back?
A: I thought about state police. October '63 is when I went to the state police academy.
Q: Were you doing photography with the police?
A: Everybody's taught cookbook photography. In other words, they give you a chart. The sun is out, set these settings. If it's raining, set these settings, if it's dark, set these settings, put the flashbulb in, this is how you focus.
But because I had been playing with a camera, I said no, I'll give it a half a stop. I was doing a lot of the photography. If it was something really kind of hairy, I got sent to do the photography.
But I got to go to Nikon schools. I go to this school. I go to that school. They sent me to a week of biomedical photography at Rochester. It was just great.
Q: What did you do with your photography when you left the police force?
A: I was still on the job and I started shooting weddings. The minute I retired, I got out of the weddings and went more into the commercial stuff.
Q: Your photography goes beyond just commercial photography. There's some artistic stuff. You've got stuff that's been on exhibit at Arts Center East in Vernon.
A: Yup. I did a big job all over the state for a plumbing place in Manchester. They do heating, plumbing, and duct work, custom duct work. I was in every kind of building you can imagine. In attics with bats and everything. Normally we don't see a brand-new boiler room. They're drippy, they're dirty. What I started doing is taking some of his stuff, silhouette out the backgrounds and making art pieces. He bought like 12 or 14 pieces. If you go into his place, now it's on the walls.
If you think about forensic photography, I used to teach it. There is a man I really like, (the American photographer) Jay Maisel. He said that weather has nothing to do with your picture. "Use the light you got. What's there is there."
I suddenly said, "Man, I've been doing that for 20 years as a cop. In the middle of a snowstorm." I'd think, "I can't do pictures," and "Well, you better."
That's why if you look a lot of my stuff, it's bad weather. You just don't worry about that.
You got two chances at doing a good thing. When you first take the picture and when you do the edit. You use what you got, and that came from the police business.
Q: How does it feel for you to have received so much recognition as a photographer?
A: I found one of the greatest ways to advertise is, I go to the libraries. I give seminars: One is creative thinking. One is what you need to know, read your telephone and a digital camera.
The second one is close-up photography, and the third one is restoration of old prints.
I think a lot of the restoration people want to make that print look perfect. No, it's an old print. Maybe we'll get rid of the mole on grandma's nose, this bad rip. Why don't you leave these two little rips down here? You should be able to decide what you want.
The other thing that I do is, some of these places, they charge you extra for copying the work while you wait, right?
If I'm doing your portrait, do I charge your extra, because I can only do it when you're here? It makes no sense at all. Number two, I don't want your prints at my place in case I have a fire. Besides, I like talking to people.
Q: Do you put your stuff out for viewing often?
A: Usually what I do, I give one lecture a month for free and they give me a month to display my work and I get four or five jobs out of that.
Q: Do you have any plans for the future?
A: There's so many things that I'd love to photograph. I just found out one of the guys here in town is doing pottery. He runs a construction business. I'd love to go photograph him doing his pottery.
I want to get over to DeCarli's (Equestrian Center in Ellington). I've never done horses. I'd love to go to Alaska sometime for the caribou migrations. There's too much to photograph to stop.
Note: This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
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