In anticipation of the West Kootenay Camera Club’s upcoming 25th annual photo show, the Castlegar News will be running periodic features on prominent club members. The first entry highlights a charter member, Nel Vandergaag.
“Photography makes you see everything in a different way,” she says. “When I was in a car accident, instead of thinking, ‘Oh God, now what?’ I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This airbag is yellow, that airbag is pink and this airbag is blue.’ You get to really look at things.”
Vandergaag, a veteran photographer, is a mentor to the club’s newer members.
She explains her humble beginnings with the club were accidental.
She took classes in the early 1980s and dabbled in photography for a few years until it came time again to have her spool developed.
“I went to get my pictures developed one time and the guy working there had started a camera club in an old photo shop downtown that’s long gone. He said, ‘Why don’t you join?’ and I thought ‘Yeah, why don’t I?’”
What started out as a simple hobby only grew from there.
Vandergaag has since won numerous awards, ribbons, and special honours. Just the other year, her photograph Looking Across at Lion’s Head was used in the Home Hardware 2014 charity calendar. Over 450,000 copies of the calendar were distributed.
“That has never happened before that’s for sure,” said Vandergaag. “I’ve been judged for 25 years. I once had my Christmas cards chosen by the Columbia Basin Trust. I don’t know how many they print but I’m sure it’s not 450,000.”
She’s never been in it for the money, Vandergaag admitted. She’s sold some pieces but most of her work has been donated to silent auctions and lotteries.
“The nice part about this hobby was I always made just enough to pay for my chemicals. It was never about earning but rather a hobby that didn’t cost me anything.”
The chemicals of course, were used back when darkrooms were needed to produce pictures.
Her husband built her a room in the basement of their old house when she was first starting out over 30 years ago. With the phasing out of darkrooms, Nel chose to donate her equipment to J.L. Crowe Secondary in Trail where it saw significant use over the years.
“I miss it to this day, though. I can’t do my black and whites as well as in the darkroom,” she confessed.
When she’s not out taking field trips with the club, or working on her own photography, Vandergaag is a great help to aspiring camera enthusiasts.
“That’s why you join the club. We all start with lousy pictures and they teach you composition, to keep it simple. I find one of the biggest [mistakes] is people have too much in their pictures. There are two or three pictures in one. I’m always willing to help. Join us, we have a wonderful bunch of people.”
One thing she does caution about is the criticism that can and will be given out. It’s all constructive, but you can’t get better without someone telling you what’s wrong. She says some people just don’t have a thick enough skin for the judging.
In conclusion, Nel’s message was “Photography is wonderful. You really look at things differently and notice so much more.”