New Kensington Camera Club: reactivated, revamped and rejuvenated
Gary Sprague, vice president of the revived New Kensington Camera Club, became serious about photography when events turned serious in his life.
When his wife developed cancer, to which she eventually succumbed, and fresh flowers were not permitted in her hospital room because of possible bacteria, Sprague snapped into action.
“It was then I realized the impact of a single image,” the New Kensington resident says.
He began photographing flowers and turned them into a slide show. “I would have her favorite music playing in the background while the flowers danced across the screen,” he says.
He later entered his “purple flower,” a tribute to his wife, in a year-long worldwide photo contest, in which he finished third.
“The flower was picked up by Microsoft and used as one of the choices for a computer desktop background in all Windows XP units,” he says. The image can be found in Windows XP operating systems in the folder C:WINDOWSWEBWallpaper.
The satisfaction for Sprague is that it, and his body of work, are making a connection with people. “The greatest satisfaction has come from the smiles of others when they look at an image I captured, and to hear their stories,” he says.
It has sustained this out-of-work mechanic who, at 51, has decided to return to school to study photography formally. He is enrolled at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
The time is right
The newly re-formed Camera Club is open to residents of any community and all ages — from teens to senior citizens — and all levels of ability, says president Don Henderson of New Kensington, graphic designer and illustrator for H.J. Heinz Co.
The time was right to bring the long-dormant club back, he says, because “this is probably the most photographed time in history. With all of the technology, there is almost nothing out there that can’t be photographed,” he says.
Still in its formative stages, the club meets at 4 p.m. the first Saturday of each month at the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society Heritage Museum in Tarentum.
“At this point, these are casual get-togethers to discuss photography, cameras, good places to shoot and to share recent photos,” Henderson says.
“The idea is that we are a self-teaching club and would love to hear from other photographers with their ideas and styles of shooting,” Sprague says.
Anyone who carries a camera “and uses it with joy” might consider joining, says Camera Club treasurer William Hall of Lower Burrell, for whom photography is “something magical.”
The club also has an active cyber membership on Facebook, where photos are posted.
Members one day hope to establish a film darkroom and digital lightroom and photo gallery. Members also want to sponsor workshops, revolving exhibits, photo contests open to the public and photo-shooting “walkabouts” of various towns, as well as provide financial support for fledgling photographers and secure loaner cameras to encourage interest in photography.
“Don Henderson believes the power of photography can make a difference in the way people look at New Kensington, and why not every community in the Alle-Kiski Valley,” says Hall, who also is vice president of the Historical Society. “We want to help lift the spirits and communities of the AK Valley.”
It’s one way to “bring the Valley back to life,” says Dolly Mistrik, president of the Historical Society, who is elated that the club accepted the board’s invitation to make the museum its initial home.
“To me, it’s a win-win situation. They will have many avenues to explore, and we will be opening our doors to further education and community awareness of the value of this area,” she says.
Mistrik says the club also has offered to assist the museum in organizing its own photography collection and to use some of the society’s photographs in future exhibits.
What’s in a name?
An immediate connection between the club and the museum is its interest in the Alle-Kiski Valley’s most celebrated photographer, the late Eddie Adams, a New Kensington native who became one of the world’s best-known and honored lensmen, receiving more than 500 awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for an iconic photo of the Vietnam War.
The legacy of the 1951 graduate of then New Kensington High School, who died in 2004 at 71, is honored in a permanent exhibit of his work at the museum.
Camera Club officers decided to keep the name “New Kensington” in its name, even though its membership is not limited to one community, as a way of maintaining that focus on Adams, Henderson says.
“Eddie Adams went from New Kensington to world fame. Who is to say the next Eddie Adams isn’t walking the streets there now,” Henderson says.
At the very least, perhaps the club can help someone develop a lifelong hobby in which they find enjoyment, Henderson says.
“We need to get a historic marker for him, too, in New Kensington. A Pulitzer is a pretty big deal,” says Henderson, who “fell in love with the magic of photography” in the mid-1970s.
Henderson and Hall point to the happy synchronicity that the original New Kensington Camera Club was started “decades ago” by the late Lou Cavaliere, owner of the Ken Kamera store in New Kensington, where Eddie Adams is said to have bought his first camera.
The club hopes to sponsor an annual Eddie Adams Photography Festival, starting in June, celebrating local photographers and the art of photography. “We’d love to put cameras in the hands of young people and say, ‘Go out and photograph your town,’ ” Henderson says.
He envisions a festival that will tie in New Kensington and the Heritage Museum in Tarentum.
Jim Thomas of New Kensington, long-time board member and past president of the Historical Society, says he always felt that the camera club and the museum would be an ideal partnership, and he applauds the organizers of the club.
“Every photograph becomes history the instant it is taken. Photographers are documenting history whether they know it or not,” Thomas says. “A photograph is a wonderful window into the past.”
New Kensington Camera Club
When: 4 p.m. first Saturday of every month
Where: Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society Heritage Museum, 224 E. Seventh Ave., Tarentum
Yearly membership: $15; $5 for students