I’m not the best photographer in the West. This probably is not the smartest thing I can admit to, considering I’ve taken photos professionally as part of my job as a journalist for close to 20 years. But, well, it’s true.Last month, during the first round of snowmageddon, I attended a meeting of the Northland Photography Club featured in this issue. I have to admit, their enthusiasm for the art was enough to remind me of the reasons I once wanted to be a great photographer. My grandmother had a subscription to National Geographic, so as a kid I was exposed to a tremendous amount of fantastic photography from a very young age. Looking at those photos, and reading the travelogues of the journalists, I dreamed of doing that someday. By the time I hit high school I had forgotten these dreams, until my second year of college when a roommate talked me into taking the yearbook class for a fun elective. I was a biology major at the time, so figured I could use some fun. It’s not for lack of training that I’m a mediocre photographer. My college career eventually included four photography classes and a two-year run as the photo editor of the student newspaper. In fact, I fell sideways into print journalism when I was assigned photography for that “fun” yearbook class. I say assigned, but what I meant was railroaded into it. I was handed a manual single lens reflex Pentax older than I was and told to have at it. The problem was, I had no idea how to use a 35 mm camera, and the staff wasn’t big on training. They taught me how to manually roll Ilford black and white film cartridges like a pro, but not the actual camera basics such as the rewind button. Old cameras had a wee little button that disengaged the teeth by the spool from the little track on the film itself. This was a key bit of information that nobody told me for a good month, during which I ruined every roll of film I shot. Make no mistake that the day I learned of that button I was pretty sure I heard the gates of heaven open and angels sing. After that, I signed up for an extra night class — one of those community education types — because I realized I was going to flunk yearbook if I didn’t do something to turn this truck around. Flunking yearbook was not an option. It’s yearbook, for heaven’s sake. Enter Ival Lawhon Jr. Ival was a staff photographer for the St. Joseph News-Press for more than 30 years. His work earned him three awards from the National Press Photographers Association, countless Missouri Press Association awards and a place in the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame. Ival was as inspiring as he was talented. He taught not just the mechanics of photography, but the history and art of it as well, and he had a talent for telling stories. His interest in photography started in Vietnam, where my guess is he learned to view the horrors from behind the lens to keep himself sane. His classes included lots of good information, but often veered off into anecdotes about his life, his work for the News-Press and above all, Great Yellow Father — Kodak. I often wondered if the man owned stock in Eastman Kodak, because he was surely in love with that company. He was an armchair expert on Kodak’s history and products and told his stories in such a way that you didn’t mind the sales pitch. Over the course of several years, I took four classes with Ival. He was the kind of teacher who invited students over to his house after class, who had no problems helping you out with concerns or stupid problems (rewind buttons). I did get better, obviously — even passable — and every now and then I take a photo I’m decently proud of (and I like to think he would be, too). However, most of the time when shooting for the college and later professional newspapers you’re operating under time constraints and you’re under the gun to get the best shot you can in the shortest period of time possible, which, frankly, stresses me out. Over the years, this churn-it-out philosophy made me forget how fun it could be to take photos just for the sake of doing it. I quit taking photos on family vacations, and even when my daughter was born I just couldn’t do it. Slowly, I’m getting back into it. The Northland Photography Club members I met reminded me of Ival — friendly, enthusiastic, willing to share. They’re people who enjoy taking photos for the sake of it, and it’s just the kind of encouragement a jaded mediocre photographer like me needs. Jeanette Browning Faubion is a Citizen reporter. She may be reached by e-mail at editor@plattecountycitizen. com or by calling 858-5154.