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My “Political Years” – The 1980’s

NIKKORMAT FT-2 Kodachrome 25 Nikkor 50mm Slides - Architecture #8

U.S. Capitol Copyright Andy Richards 1980

My “adult” fascination with photography began in 1976-77.  I was just a bit too young to really have embraced the sometimes tumultuous 1970’s – the era of counterculture, the war in Vietnam, “hippies” and some pretty good rock and roll bands.  By the time I graduated from High School, the likelihood of being drafted was almost nill.  I was only 14 when the Kent State Massacre happened.  So you could probably fairly say that my photography, “came of age” in the 1980s.  And yet, ironically, while I made many images during the next decade, very few of them survived, and fewer yet, have been scanned in digitally.

The era of the 1970’s was one of counterculture, the war in Vietnam, “hippies,” and some pretty good rock & roll bands

Like many amateur photographers with no training, the “keeper-ratio” was rather low.  Two things probably contributed to this in a big way.  The first was technical – not really understanding exposure (I understood the basics – but I didn’t really understand how to consistently properly expose an image).  The second was more related to “vision.”  My imagery was still mainly “snapshots.”  I took too many shots.  They were often without a vision.  In later years, as I scanned “keepers” and culled many more slides, I realized this.  My technical knowledge and my “vision” will – I hope – be ever evolving, but it did not really move forward until the 1990’s when I retook the “hobby” with a vengeance.

Maybe these “early years” were more of a foundation-building period (more to my philosophy and vision than to my technical skills).  During the period between 1975 and 1984, I moved to Vermont and lived there off and on for 4 years.  I moved back to Michigan and attended Hillsdale College for 2 years as a Junior and Senior.  I went to Washington, D.C., where I again, lived off and on over at least a 4-year period, including 3 years in law school there.  It is where I met my wife.  It was a pretty intense time of my youthful life.

My images were often without “vision”

During my 1979-1980 academic year at Hillsdale, I took 100s of images as a Newspaper and Yearbook staff photographer (to see most of those images-made nearly exclusively with B&W and some color negative film, which to my discredit, I did not archive well-you would have to get your hands on a 1980 “Wenona” Hillsdale College Yearbook, or some old archive copies of the “Collegian” newspaper) :-).

I spent the fall semester of the 1980-81 year in Washington, D.C. on a congressional internship.  While the city is a treasure trove of photographic opportunities, I was a young, college student in one of the most exciting places (especially for a politically-inclined person) in the world, and did not spend much time behind the lens).  It is on my bucket list to return there on a dedicated photography trip in the future (sadly, it will not be as easy, or as accessible today, as it was back in 1980).  Much of my photography today is not only influenced by, but often subject-specific to those years (readers here may know that I have written an eBook for photographers on photographing Vermont, and regularly travel back there specifically to photograph).

Washington Monument Copyright Andy Richards 1980

Washington Monument
Copyright Andy Richards 1980

I did get a few opportunities to get out and shoot some of the city’s famous highlights.  I even took a shot at my first night-time photography and my favorite of the shoot is the Washington Monument from the reflecting pool.  I lived in Rosslyn (an urban “mistake” between D.C. and suburban VA), which was in view of Arlington Cemetery, the Iwo-Jima monument, the Capitol and Washington and Jefferson monuments and within walking distance of Georgetown.

Arlington National Cemetery Copyright Andy Richards 1980

Arlington National Cemetery
Copyright Andy Richards 1980

There is probably nothing more “iconic” about the 1980’s than Ronald Reagan

The 80’s we turned a corner from the turbulent ’70s.  We became more conservative.  We became more focused on affluence and were perhaps more seriously intent on careers and business.  You could fairly say we became more self-centered.  We also had a more optimistic outlook and things were more focused on on fun and less on societal commentary.  We had disco, and disco music, Billy Joel, Christopher Cross, Men at Work and Kool and the Gang.  Malls became the thing for teenagers, and we spent $200 or more on high-top basketball shoes.  But there is probably nothing more “iconic” about the 1980’s than Ronald Reagan and the “Reagan Revolution.  I admit (in my rare excursion into politics here) to being an admirer.  If you don’t understand why, look up Hillsdale College :-).  It was pretty thrilling to be able to see him up close a number of times.  I have images of him and the campaign that I am pretty certain nobody could get close enough to make without security clearance today.  This is one of my favorites.  Shortly after this speech, I was close enough to touch him!

Ronald Reagan Copyright Andy Richards 1980

Ronald Reagan
Copyright Andy Richards 1980

My digital archives show a single non-memorable image made in 1982 in D.C.  Then life happened.  Law School, career and family.  The next year I have images is 1996.  My one memory of dusting of the cameras during my law school years (1982-84) was a fine spring day when I went down to the reflecting basin area around the monuments.  It was one of those blue sky/cotton candy clouds and late afternoon sun days.  The Cherry Blossoms were at their peak bloom.  I shot an entire roll of images.  When I got back to my apartment and rewound the film, I realized it was Tri-X B&W.  Palm smack to head :-).  Actually, the B&W images were pretty nice, but alas, in my youthful ignorance, I did not save them.

Next, some images from my “re-awakening.”

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