PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST — Richard G. VanOver is pictured with one of his photographs, exhibited at “Through My Eyes,” which is on display at VanOver Fine Arts, this month. Photo by Lizz Schumer.
SPRINGVILLE — Richard G. VanOver carried two cameras, throughout his Navy tour in Japan: a 4 x 5 Speed Graphic for his official, black and white Navy photographs, and an Aires IIIC rangefinder, for his personal use.
The Navy photographer took thousands of shots, during his years stationed at Atsugi Naval Air Station, 1956 – 58. Until recently, the photos resided in only boxes. Now until April 27, a selection of those shots are on display, in an exhibit titled “Through My Eyes,” at VanOver Fine Arts gallery in Springville.
VanOver said he first learned about photography from a cousin, before he enlisted in the Navy. When he was interviewed after boot camp, to determine his interests, the photographer said he thought becoming a Navy photographer “might be interesting.
“They interviewed us, to see what might be our field of choice. So, after aviation training, they sent us to photo school,” VanOver said.
After learning the tools of the trade, VanOver was sent to the USS Wasp CVA18 aircraft carrier, to join 20 other photographers, in documenting everything from squadron operations, identification badges, portraits, parts documentation, aerial mapping and the daily life of the people they encountered, in the Pacific.
“In the Navy, everything gets documented,” he said. “They split [the photographers] up and got everything on film. We took a lot of portraits, ID badges [and] squadron drills. That way, the pilots could see their mistakes. If there was an accident, we got that on film, too.”
VanOver explained that one of his main jobs was cruise book duty, which included documenting the places the unit visited for what he called “a sort of yearbook.” The photos he took with his own, color film camera were obtained, during those assignments, when he would shoot both official Navy pictures and other images, for his own use.
“Any time we went ashore, I’d take photos of everything that went on, the places we visited,” he said. “The best way to see Japan, in those days, was to get on a train and take it to the end of the line, away from the westernized parts. There, you could still see the traditional culture of the people who lived there [and] their customs. It’s probably quite a bit different now.”
VanOver pointed out a picture he had taken of a trolley rail in Hong Kong, as well as a panoramic view of the country, below. A local couple, who spoke with, him at the show’s opening reception on March 9, had told the artist they took the same trolley, but that the countryside had changed quite a bit, since VanOver’s photo was taken.
“I’m sure a lot of it has changed,” he said, nodding at the landscape, countryside and people he had photographed in the ‘50s. He also indicated a photo of a little girl waiting at a train station, who he said had been “really showing off, spinning around a column,” when he was waiting for a train.
“I couldn’t help but snap a picture. It’s a great way to study people,” he added, pointing at another photo, of a woman cleaning a fish at an outdoor market. “You can see their way of life. We found the Japanese people very genial. Very amenable to us, while we were there.”
The photographer said he plans to add more prints, from his broad collection of slides, to the show. Those that do not make it onto the walls are also available in an exhibition book, which VanOver said will remain at the gallery.
“It was Richard’s idea,” VanOver said, referring to his son, the owner and curator of the gallery. “I had all of these slides packed away and we went through and picked out the images that we thought would have the most appeal and show a good variety.”
“It’s really great to see dad’s photos up here, where people can enjoy them,” the gallery owner added. “There’s no way to see slides, anymore. Just try and find a slide projector, these days.”
The father and son duo chose the slides to have printed and worked with a company called Iprintfromhome.com that is based in Kenmore, N.Y., to turn the slides into prints. VanOver added that the prices were more reasonable than other companies, both local and national, and that the turnaround was also faster than other options.
“I like to stay local, when I can,” VanOver said. “But when you’re making 18 prints, you’ve got to take cost into consideration, too.”
He said that he also did test prints of the slides, made at 11 inches by 16 inches and 16 inches by 20 inches, to see how they would look, and that those prints were “crystal clear.
“They can blow up pretty big,” he said, of the company the pair used. “And they were really helpful, every step of the way.”
The VanOvers mounted the prints themselves, using pre-cut mats and frames they purchased in bulk, using a mounting system that would prevent rippling by allowing the photos to bend and flex with natural temperature changes.
After he was discharged from the Navy, Richard G. VanOver shot weddings and child photography, “to help pay the bills.
“I started out with black and white weddings, then got into color. I had to send those out, for processing and printing,” he said. “I still do some photography, just for my own amusement.”
These days, Richard G. VanOver uses a Minolta camera and still works exclusively in film.
“I’m old-school,” he said, with a laugh. “If you take a bad shot with a digital camera, that’s no problem, but with film, you [have] to do with what you got.”
VanOver is available at the gallery every Saturday, throughout the show, to discuss his work with visitors.
“It’s nice to talk to people [and] hear their stories,” he said. “It’s so interesting, to see who you’ll meet.”
In addition, VanOver Fine Arts will raffle off one print of the winner’s choice, to be drawn on the last night of the show. Winners need not be present at the drawing, and tickets are available at the gallery.
VanOver Fine Arts is located at 49 East Main St. in Springville and may be reached by calling 592-8255. The gallery is open Wednesday – Friday and Saturday, from 1 – 6 p.m.