Al Rollins - In His Own Words
Throughout my youth I lived in numerous places across the country: from Portland ME, Washington DC, Denver CO, Portland OR, to Salt Lake City UT, attending nearly 20 schools.
My interest in photography began when I acquired a 127 or 620 folding camera in my tenth grade. I took black and white photographs which I developed in my cellar. My enlarger had only half the lens elements, so I had to print with the aperture closed all the way down to obtain anything close to a sharp print. I applied to my high school for a position taking photos for school publications. They asked me if I had a 4 x 5 camera. I replied “No”, and they said I had to provide my own equipment. This was a public school on the richer side of town and my family lived on the border of the school district. Unfortunately my family did not have the money to buy camera equipment, so I was unable to help with the school photographs. I continued to take my own photos and to learn as much about photography and color as possible.
I signed up for an art class, with the teacher’s approval, so that I could get books from the library to learn about color and composition. This too, did not last when the teacher told me that unless I did the class projects I could not pass. Sadly, my drawing skills were very limited. I changed classes again, and just became as self-taught as I could. I was determined to read most of the photographic books in the school library. My mentor became Ansel Adams. His work and different film processes were an inspiration that I carefully tried to duplicate.
At the end of 1953 I quit high school in the middle of my senior year, having enough credits to graduate, and then enlisted in the U.S. Army. Upon completion of my basic and engineer training I was sent to Japan; I was finally able to buy my first 35mm camera and a few lenses.
My job was providing weather data to artillery units in Japan and Korea but during off duty times I road my motorcycle to parks, temples, the mountains, and coastal areas to hone my photographic skills. I was ecstatic with the many wonders I was able to see and photograph.
My army tour ended the latter part of 1956. I had heard about the Eastern Test Range in Florida and that they were looking for weather men to work on the down-range tracking stations. I applied, was hired, and worked for Pan American Airways for sixteen years on the tracking stations and at Cape Canaveral. While at Cape Canaveral (1959 - 1963) I was privileged to witness the first American astronauts lifting off for space! Working for Pan Am I was able to travel at tremendous discounts, and began visiting South America, Central America, the USA, and back to Japan. I even went to Cuba twice before Castro took over.
I returned to the down-range stations in 1963 and was able to do some underwater photography, making my own underwater camera cases. The islands had many different types of birds to photograph. Ascension Island, in the South Atlantic, has many unique species of birds, including Frigate birds, Bosun Birds, and Boobies. One beach had thousands of Wide Awake Terns nesting at all stages of life. The beaches on Ascension did not have much sand but rather were made of lava rocks which provided many crevices for nests. This, more than anything, was the beginning of my love of photographing birds.
I left the range in 1972 and have had a variety of occupations: from photographer, real estate broker, hotel manager and owner, accountant, to computer consultant. I retired after working as a budget manager for ten years for a local Florida city.
I now live near a wetlands area in Florida and spend most of the spring photographing many different birds. A lot of them are migrants from the northern US and Canada. I travel with my lovely wife, Janet, in our camper van throughout the US and Canada. I love to shoot landscapes, nature, and wildlife photos. For the past four years I have been teaching photography at our local Senior Center during the fall and winter months.
I think the United States offers some of the most diverse and unique places and objects to photograph. Two of my favorite places are the coast of Maine and Southern Utah. Wherever I am I spend hours looking for the ideal spot. Then I wait, or go back, for the best light. Sometimes I hike as much as ten miles to the top of a mountain in order to shoot spectacular views. Our recent three-month trip for our grandson’s college graduation in San Francisco was 9300 miles, driving from Florida to California.
Photography has always been and will continue to be a most enjoyable part of my life.