Franciscan Joy: His photos bring life into focus
BY FR. FRANK JASPER, OFM
My first venture into photography was when I was about 8 years old and someone gave us one of those old box cameras. I quickly claimed it and took pictures of my little sister, Ruth, in the back yard with Tiny, the family dog. I would wait with eager anticipation to see what came back from the drug store when the film was developed. It seemed like magic to me that I could freeze the moment.
When I was 10 or 11, I upgraded to a Kodak Brownie which I received as a Christmas gift. I took lots of pictures with that little camera and while my dad took home movies, I quickly became the family photographer. I experimented with my mom’s old camera, but I just couldn’t hold it steady enough. Then I upgraded to a 35 mm camera provided by Santa.
After classmate Dan Kroger taught me how to develop pictures in the darkroom at St. Francis Seminary, I was truly hooked. It seemed like magic to see the images appear in the horrible smelling chemicals. As I progressed through school, I was never able to use the good equipment because I was not the "official" photographer. So I used an old enlarger with a poor lens and expired paper from the Army Surplus Store. Still, I produced decent pictures that friar Paul Scales used in the vocation office. I provided him with a stack of photos each month which motivated me to continue taking pictures. I really enjoyed making the friars "look good" and giving them pictures for their family and friends.
In novitiate I gave away my camera when I simplified my life. It wasn’t until I returned to Duns Scotus as guardian 20 years later that I took up the hobby again. I revived the Duns Scotus News and Views and needed pictures for the newsletter. The discount store did a terrible job of developing them, and since I had a fully equipped darkroom there, I went back to creating the "magic." The problem was that all the good equipment had been taken, stolen, or given away.
Philip Dattilo, Fr. Theophane’s nephew, gave me a new lens for the enlarger, and it made all the difference. I couldn’t believe how sharp the pictures were with a decent lens. Phil also encouraged me to get a medium format camera that took awesome black and white pictures. I documented our Provincial Chapters, All-Province Assemblies, professions, ordinations and other province events. When the Communications Office added pictures to the regular newsletter, I got a kick out of seeing my pictures in print. One of my favorite ones was of Bob Sieg from Sacred Heart Province standing next to the huge safe in the bank the parish bought for a parish hall. Catholic News Service syndicated the picture and they paid me a $10 royalty, which didn’t even cover the cost of the paper and chemicals. But like I told Fr. Bob, "It’s all about fame!" Since Bob was so well known from his vocation work, he was receiving news clippings from all over the country. My pictures of Gene Mayer and Carl Langenderfer lighting candles are my most famous ones now.
I head out to nature regularly to take pictures. It’s really just an excuse to get outside and explore the territory. Often I’ll return without taking a single picture. But I have gotten some nice ones along the way. I especially like the people pictures. They add the human element to the nature scenes. I also enjoy working with the kids at St. Francis Seraph School, Friars Club, or my own family. They usually really enjoy seeing themselves in the pictures.
I resisted the switch to digital until no one wanted my pictures anymore. "Send me the file!" they’d say. So Santa provided me with another marvelous piece of technology. In the 10 years since I’ve "gone digital," I’ve probably taken about 60,000 pictures. My computer had them numbered exactly until I filled the hard drive and had to start removing them.
I still get a thrill out of the magic of photography and enjoy making others look good and promoting our ministries and the love of beauty with my images.