DeKALB — According to his wife, Marilyn, Cliff Cleland "is always on the lookout for a good picture. He takes his camera with him everywhere."
That pretty much includes most of the world. About 40 of his pictures will be displayed in Cleland's one-man photo exhibit, "Journeys: Near and Far," which will be at The Art Box, 309 E. Lincoln Highway, DeKalb, April 2 - 30. The opening reception will be from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, April 7.
After getting his masters' degree in education from Nothern Illinois University, the Chicago native became the first counselor for Kishwaukee Community College for four years. "When I was there, there were no buildings," he said, adding that there were only the cornfields. "There was a farmhouse at the corner of 38 and Malta Road where we did all our business. My job was to register students and figure out their schedules."
From there, he went to Waubonsee Community College where he was a counselor for 26 years before retiring.
From the time he was 12, Cleland has been taking pictures, first of family and friends, then of nature and buildings, both here and all over the world, Although he does sell his photographs, Cleland has never taken pictures professionally. "I'm just an amateur with better equipment," he jokes.
For the past few years, Cleland has been experimenting with color and form in his photographs, creating a photographic version of Impressionism.
Cleland sat down for a few minutes in his lovely DeKalb home, which has a number of his framed pictures hanging on tall, white walls, with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson to discuss photography and his upcoming exhibit.
MidWeek: How did you get started in photography?
Cliff Cleland: I really began as a kid. My dad gave me a Kodak folding camera when I started the seventh grade. I began taking pictures, pretty much black and white. Not much architecture, mostly just people. I scanned a lot of them onto the computer. A couple of them should turn up in the program.
In the service, my first assignment was in Morocco. I was just 18 and I picked up a 35-millimeter Argus. Film was pretty cheap there and processing wasn't too bad either. I began taking pictures of sites. I took pictures of the people practically attached to our site. The only way to travel was by train. Tangiers was an easy train trip, just a couple of hours. And then our basketball team did some traveling. I took my camera with me. I still have a lot of them.
MW: So you've essentially been taking pictures ever since?
CC: Yes. As I got a better income, I got better equipment and I took more. For years, I continued taking pictures of my family, at family gatherings and weddings and so forth.
MW: Did you specialize in people then?
CC: It was pretty much just people I knew.
MW: What kind of a camera do you use now?
CC: I use a Nikon D-5100.
MW: Do you shoot digital?
CC: All digital.Thank God for digital. I did take some wonderful shots with film, but the thing is you have to wait so long to see what you've got. If you just miss a shot and it's out of focus, you know, you can reshoot it. You can get different shots of the same thing. You can get 50 shots of the same thing; one of them should come out. I love digital. I don't think I could ever go back to film. You know, it's hard to find places that will process film.
MW: Do you prefer color or black and white photos?
CC: I'm pretty much using color. A lot of the stuff I'm doing I'm using metallic. I'm trying a new type of experiment photography.
MW: Those pictures remind me of an Impressionist painting, very colorful.
CC: It's a different kind of photography. It's something I've been doing more recently. Like these pictures here, it's wilder and more energetic. Some people look at it and go, "Oh, I don't know about that," and others go, "Gee, that's wonderful." It really grabs them.
MW: Do you doctor them up?
CC: I do some editing on the computer, yes.
MW: When you take trips, do you take your camera with you or do you specifically arrange a trip around some place you want to photograph?
CC: The last big camera vacations, I always carry my equipment with me. On one trip, I was carrying two cameras with me at all times. We went with a group of 12 and oftentimes they'd have to wait for me until I got all the photographs I want. Everyone was taking pictures, but i was taking more of them.
MW: Do you ever have trouble going through customs with your cameras?
MW: Is there a favorite place in the world you like to photograph?
CC: When we were in Nova Scotia, and I was still using film, we went to Peggy's Cove. Since then, I've read it's the most photographed location in North America. The sun sets over this little harbor and, of course, all the sailboats and boats are there at the end of the day. So I went there, about 15 years ago, and here where these professional photographers with these huge cameras all over the place. You could have taken a picture of the photographers. It was a beautiful day. I took some nice shots.
Costa Rica is another place I would love to go. They have the jungles there.
MW: What are your favorite subjects to photograph?
CC: I like the changing colors of special places like the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee.
MW: What makes a good picture?
CC: I look for composition and color and contrast. I like contrasting color, contrasting action.
MW: The show coming up, is this an art show or exhibit?
CC: It's an art exhibit.
MW: How did the exhibit come about?
CC: Dan (Grych) did the framing for some of my pictures and we got to be friends. He is an artist himself and mostly he does framing for paintings.
MW: How many pictures will there be?
CC: I took 40 over there and he'll put up as many as he has room for. The theme is "The Journey." I gave him some small black and whites I took in Chicago and some from Morocco and a whole bunch from my travels to China, Venice, the Rocky Mountain National Park, out in Colorado and Wisconsin. We have a place up there we visit quite often. Some fall pictures.
MW: Do you choose the pictures that will go in the exhibit or how does that work?
CC: Actually, Dan came over here. I was having a hard time. I have so many and he said, "you can only choose so many. There's only so much wall space." So I laid them out and he came over one night and he went through it: "this will work and this will work." And I added some others to go along with them.
MW: Is it exciting to have your own exhibit then?
CC: Oh, it's very exciting. I'm looking forward to it. I like to share my photography with other folks. Let them see how I see the world, what appeals to me.
MW: Is this your first exhbiit?
CC: No, I had a show at the Egyptian Theatre one time, just one day, They called it "The Holiday Sale" or something like that. I had my work up at the Sycamore Library for a month, about a year ago now. I also had some stuff I put out for the House Cafe, some of my experiment stuff. I may have some of that in the show. I showed them to Dan and he said we'll see what we can do.
MW: Will your photographs be on sale at the show?
CC: I'll sell what I can. I have backups of all of them. If I sell any of them, I'll be really happy. It's a show, but Dan is a businessman.
MW: Do you shoot weddings or things like that?
CC: For my family, I've taken photographs of a lot of weddings and I've just made them available to them. But I don't get paid for my photography. I've been asked to do that, but I say, "Thank you, but no thanks."
MW: Of all the pictures you've taken, are there any that stand out?
CC: Here's a photograph of the entrance to the king of Morocco's residence. Only the king and his entourage can go through there, and no photographs are allowed of the door. I don't know if you're violating the law by looking at this. I probably was by taking it.