Most of us take pictures with cameras.
Jim Weyer takes them with his mind.
Weyer (rhymes with fire) moved to the Springfield Masonic Community this year after a career spent as a professional photographer in Toledo, and finds himself very much at home here.
“I love Springfield,” he said. “I hate the one-way streets.”
But traveling them, he’s already found some striking images here: a face on the trunk of a tree; a tepee at George Rogers Clark Park that had the good sense to have trees aglow behind it; a leaf-green katydid still as a statue on the hood of a car.
In his Masonic Square garage, he’s busy arranging and rearranging still lifes that resemble paintings more than photographs.
Images fill his imagination.
“My mind is wandering all the time,” said Weyer. “I have a hard time going to sleep. I see other things people don’t see.”
Although he says retirement has given him the freedom to shoot what he pleases, his career was built on his ability to do that very thing in a way that pleased others.
“I was always hired to do what the client wanted,” he said, “but I always shot for me.”
His ultimate advice to other photographers is to do the same.
“The biggest thing people need to do,” he said, “is to learn to see.”
There’s a more to that, of course, than meets the eye.
And for Weyer, learning to see has involved seeing his way through the technical problems photography has put in his way.
“Any photographer in Toledo, if they’re any good, knows how to shoot glass,” said Weyer. “And glass means reflection.”
But a more cutting-challenge came Weyer’s way by way of a friend.
The friend made a knife that a magazine promised to run a photo of if he could provide the picture. So he approached Weyer, who at the time was convalescing from a flare up of multiple sclerosis.
With time on his hands, Weyer did what a professional would. He thumbed through some magazines to check out the competition and the state of the art.
“I was appalled at the horrendous knife photography,” he said.
Knife makers who took their own photos often complained that no matter how hard they tried, their photographs ended with a black spot at the bottom of the blade.
“It’s the top of your head,” Weyer told them more than once, though he was actually more sympathetic than that makes him seem.
“Knives are worse than glass,” Weyer said. “They’re not just reflective, they’re mirrors.”
And that makes the choice of angles and lighting crucial, imposing a kind of discipline. His eye had to find a way not only to see around the problems, but to produce handsome images on the far end.
His “Knives: Points of Interest” series, now out of print, offer a parade of those. For people interested in knives, it’s a marvelous display; for those not interested in knives, it’s page after page of interesting images.
Weyer has plenty of stories from a long career: anecdotes of photos that appeared in Life magazine and photos of presidents going back to Harry Truman. (Then in retirement, Truman didn’t want to be photographed at a piano. “He gave me a stern picture, which is kind of what they wanted.”)
After most of a career spent using film, Weyer made the switch to digital photography — but only after the density in mega pixels caught up, then surpassed, what he could do with film and large format cameras.
A lily in a ditch; a drape furled around the window frame of an abandoned, weathered house; a beaming pig farmer; a placid, somewhat lonely pond; rays of sun refracting through a forest dew — all have a certain something about them.
All offer glimpses into the way Jim Weyer sees.
And he’s still looking.
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