After a career in academia, a boomer rekindles his passion with a camera

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We love it here at BoomerCafé when a baby boomer learns something new, then shares it with the rest of us. So it is with Robert Atkinson, professor of human development and director of Life Story Commons at the University of Southern Maine; Bob’s also the author of eight books. But the passion he has recently rekindled? Photography.

I don’t think I’m the only one. In the tapestry of life some threads begin strong, trail off and even disappear, but come back strong later on. That’s the way it was for me with photography.

Prof. Robert Atkinson

Prof. Robert Atkinson

Growing up in the era of the Kodak Brownie, Twin Lens Reflex, and Super 8, many technological innovations of the time captured my fancy. By college, I had a Mamiya Sekor 35mm SLR, and my first photograph was published in the East Hampton Star, a local newspaper. It was a black-and-white seascape with the sun shining through the dune grass.

My Mamiya helped me document some of my early adventures after college. But when my academic career began in earnest, it didn’t seem like I had much time any more for my camera. Then, there were many years I was without one. In my mid-fifties, though, I picked up a Leica point-and-shoot film camera that documented very nicely my around-the-world voyage as a Semester at Sea faculty member.

After everything became digital, I got back into photography even more with a Nikon DSLR. Still tempted to keep up with today’s endless innovations, my gear now consists of a mirrorless full frame camera, the Sony a7R, and the pocketable Leica C.

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It’s nice to try to produce the best quality image, but the equipment we use isn’t the main thing; it is only an extension of who we are. What matters more is the eye seeing everything first, the heart taking it all in, and the mind … or soul … making sense of it all.

I think most photographers agree: see the scene first only with your eyes, before putting the lens to your eye. For me, it’s about being present in the moment, being conscious of everything around, finding a unique perspective, and composing first in my mind’s eye what could possibly become an iconic image.

The one constant for me in my photography, throughout my life, has been seeing the light, particularly the sun itself. Light is the source of all life on our planet. With the sun as either the focus that highlights everything else or a detail that can’t go unnoticed, any image has a better chance of having a lasting impact.

The sun is a metaphor of life. I like sunsets, and sunrises too. They represent the continual beginnings and endings of life. They punctuate every transition of life. They illumine the journey of the soul. They provide an eternal perspective on life.

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Photography is a passion in my life that wouldn’t die. Recently rekindled, it offers new meaning through a deeper perspective that I now bring to it. My photography is less about a personal creative expression and more a sharing of the bountiful natural beauty all around us. Conscious awareness of the moment leads to conscious travel, wherever we happen to be, which results in conscious photography, which changes the way we see the world.

Robert Atkinson is professor of human development and director of Life Story Commons at the University of Southern Maine. He is author of “Mystic Journey: Getting to the Heart of Your Soul’s Story.”

8 Comments

  1. Your photography is indeed moving, and does capture the beauty all around us if we but look, but more importantly, at least to me, is that you have captured the very essence of what we should be about in your statement:
    “It’s nice to try to produce the best quality image, but the equipment we use isn’t the main thing; it is only an extension of who we are. What matters more is the eye seeing everything first, the heart taking it all in, and the mind … or soul … making sense of it all.”
    Thank you

  2. Bob Atkinson is, indeed, a gifted photographer and a determined individual to make pre-dawn hikes into the desert to find that one spot where he captures the right shadows and light magic with his camera.

    Thanks, Bob, for sharing.

    David

  3. oh my…..what can I way…..as a recently retired art teacher, I am moved by your
    capturing the beauty of our creation….I would so often tell my students…remember,
    a picture is worth what?….& they all somehow knew the answer…a thousand words….
    so, remember, what we do in art, the visual language, is as important as your english
    class tho there are some who know this saying, yet will cut our art program 1st thing as
    though it is of no importance…….
    …..the photos you have shared this morning, warmed this day for me, as I sit in my art
    studio in frigid central Illinois waiting winters ‘last’ blast…..oh, to be down in the southwest
    this morning……thanks for taking me there…..
    ……I also appreciate the wisdom in your spoken word…as I find myself traveling down
    this exciting, yet unsettling road called retirement…..I am spending these days confined
    by our weather & am going thru all these boxes that contain the paperwork collected &
    used during my 32 years as an educator….4 big plastic tubs are not totally emptied of the
    labor of what used to be my life & there are many more waiting for me…..lesson plans, examples & unfinished artwork….it is a strange journey to see what was once so vital & necessary now of no relevance…no use….I pass on what is of use to the young man who is now in my classroom….but most is out of date, replaced by the new technology & will be placed in a recycle bin one of these days……I will make it a pilgrimage to free myself of the past…..& it will be both bittersweet &
    joyous as I let myself be free………….but hidden in the endless papers are little jewels
    that are still of use….a drawing waiting for the day when I would have time to finish it….
    a quote jotted down on a scrap of paper that still touches my heart….a note from a student
    telling me how important I was in their life……things that bring a smile to my face & some
    that tug at my heart for they remind me of precious things lost to time…..some are too painful
    to look upon & are quickly discarded……. I am both excited & breathless as I enter this new chapter…..it is new ground for me to walk & so I am taking it slow….shedding this old skin
    is necessary & a labor that must be done in order for my next chapter to unfold & blossom….
    It is comforting to have the experience & wisdom of like spirits to guide & direct my steps….
    I noticed your book, ‘Mystic Journey’…..& believe it will further enlighten me along this path….
    am I correct?…..again, thank you for touching my life this day…..may you continue to be
    blessed……..diann

    1. Hi Diann, thanks very much for your thoughtful comments. I’m sure you do have many “little jewels” in the midst of your papers, as your students have reminded you! Starting out on any new journey can be quite challenging. That’s exactly why “Mystic Journey” was written, to help guide us through those difficult but necessary times in our lives that are meant to lead us toward transformation and continual spiritual growth. I do believe you will find the keys to this ‘archetypal pattern’ in the book. Wishing you the best on your continuing journey!

  4. Hi Bob,

    Just like you, I’ve always been interested in photography from a very early age. The box ‘Brownie’ was my starter camera, followed by various instamatics and eventually a Kodak 35mm. Then the small fortune I used to pay to get my film developed suddenly became extinct with the concept of the wonderful digital compact cameras.

    I think the awareness of how much the film developing cost made me try and compose my shots well. Now, even with my Sony DSLR and the multitude of lenses I have, taking my time with composition has carried through to this day. That said, I have had days where I’ve taken upwards of 100 shots, with maybe only 10 that were worth using. Isn’t that the nature of photography in this day and age though? We can shoot with regularity and even continually while the landscape changes with the light and every image will tell a different story.

    I will be retiring in the next academic year and want to devote even more time to my photography. It’s a purpose to get out and about, use my brain, make friends, and have achievements to show for it.

    Keep up the great work Bob, your images are wonderful.

  5. Hi Bob.
    Thanks for your story – I share a similar experience. My renewed passion in photography has brought me to places I forgot even existed – beauty in the tiniest and largest scenes of our world! Your photos are fantastic – I love the colors and light. I would love to share “images” on flickr.com Are you a member? If not, please join and invite me to “follow.” My name is Jeri Fink. I think you’ll enjoy the photo sharing on this amazing site.

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