Ketchikan Daily News photographer culls 40 memorable, lasting images from his 25-year career

Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nearly every day for the past quarter-century, photographer Hall Anderson has taken hundreds of photos. He's explored every corner of Ketchikan, camera in hand, capturing the bizarre and the beautiful, the dramatic and the mundane, and its all part of his job: staff photographer for the Ketchikan Daily News.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"I'm the kind of person who needs pressure to produce, so the newspaper has been great in that regard," he said. "It's forced me to go out and shoot stuff I wouldn't normally shoot."

A downside of newspaper photography is that the printing process can reduce a beautiful, well-conceived shot to a collection of gray smudges on the page.

"Newsprint is not a very friendly medium," he said. "It's like a sponge - it absorbs all the ink."

He recalls seeing one of his favorite photographs, "Electric Sky," taken during a lightning storm, printed in the paper.

"Everyone in Ketchikan was excited by it but technically I thought it was a horrible reproduction," he said.

Anderson's latest solo show at the Alaska State Museum allows "Electric Sky" and nearly 40 other photographs to be seen in their full glory. Liberated from the crowded newspage and enlarged to showcase Anderson's artistry, the images are all are presented in black and white, Anderson's medium for 19 of his 25 years at the Daily News.

Black and white tends to encourage the viewer to think about the photo more, Anderson said, by allowing the images to move into a more abstract space.

"As my photography professor (in college) used to say, the beauty of black and white is it's abstract," he said. "Whereas color is reality and pure reality can be boring because it's got no edge."

Anderson is currently working on a book of black-and-white photography, scheduled to be published sometime this spring by University of Alaska Press. Having this project in the works made the culling process for the museum exhibit much easier, as he had already gone through his extensive files and scanned the negatives. Previously he was featured in a the 2003 edition of "America 24/7" along with Juneau photographer Michael Penn, but the upcoming book will be his first solo publication.

The images selected for the museum show, a little less than half of those contained in the book, are a retrospective of Anderson's career, and reflect his sense of timing as well as his sense of humor.

One shot shows a man about to be carried off by a giant (fake) eagle. Another shows a boy lying on the floor of a crowded church with his arms outstretched; above him in the background, Jesus hangs on the cross. The latter was taken while Anderson was shooting the performance of a visiting boy's choir.

"(That day) I took some shots and suddenly this kid decided to leave the pew and lay on the floor."

"I'll see something really quick and try to grab it. You have a feeling when you think you've got a good picture."

Other photos feature Southeast landscapes. One of Anderson's personal favorites is a distance shot of cruise ship with two Native kayaks in the foreground. In this as in other images, part of the strength of the photo comes in the juxtaposition of dissimilar or surprising elements -- in this case, modern and historic images of Southeast and British Columbia.

Anderson remembers taking his first photos on a trip to San Francisco when he was 12, with his mother's Brownie camera. By the time he was 16, he had developed a strong interest, and in high school spent time playing around in his friend's dad's darkroom. His first official role as a photographer was in documenting high-school parties.

"I used to document the beer parties, and that's how I really got into it," he said.

He took a journalism class in college, eventually meeting black-and-white photographer Brett Weston and going to visit Ansel Adams at his home in Carmel, Calif.

"(Adams') darkroom was almost the size of the newsroom at the Ketchikan Daily News," he said.

After shooting and developing his own film for nearly 20 years, Anderson switched over to digital photography about eight years ago. He says he's mostly happy with the result. He still uses a Nikon, but rarely shoots film anymore.

But one thing he's never gotten used to: being on the other side of the camera.

"Having your picture taken is a strange experience," he said.

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