Fred Hill, Darkroom Soldier

darkroom_soldierYesterday I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Fred Hill, a 94-year-old local photographic legend, talk about his long image-making career, with particular focus on his World War II stint as a military Pacific theater war-zone photographer.  To quote commentary on 

Between October 1943 and October 1945, Fred Hill served as a Photo Lab Chief assigned to the 17th PRS, 5th Air Force in the Southwest Pacific. Working in sometimes crude darkrooms, he helped process thousands of photos needed by 5th AF commanders in mission planning and battle damage assessment. During that time Hill, a pre-war photographer, also took hundreds of photos showing life in the Pacific Theater and wrote dozens of letters describing those events to his wife.

DSCN5157I got a chance to exchange memories of Ansel Adams with Fred, as he was a student of Adams in San Francisco immediately following the war in 1946, whereas I had studied briefly with Ansel at Yosemite in the early 70s.

In his gracious and good-humored manner, Fred told of how his mother had taught him photography as a young child (and even had her camera on display, along with some of the other cameras — except for his large format view cameras — used throughout his career).  He described in vivid detail his wartime adventures, mostly in the darkroom, and told of how he used, for his personal photo work, scrap negative  ends from large-format aerial photography rolls mounted on B-25 bombers and other aircraft.  Along with Fred’s own work spanning over eighty years of civilian and military activity, two books published of his work were available (see more info here), as well as a large selection of historical documentary work done by various photographers of  local scenes mostly over the first half of the 20th century but maintained and printed by Fred.

Fred’s work will be exhibited through February 28 at the Union County Art & Culture Center.

And one of the crowd favorites was a photo of Fred as a young serviceman in his combat zone station with Jocko, a squadron mascot, astride his back, included below. 

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