Fascinating journey: A photographer’s life
A Scripps Ranch resident combined his technical knowledge with his artistic gifts to develop a lifelong career including portrait, nature and fine art photography.
Michael Campbell is a professional photographer with a dazzling portfolio of portraits, travel and nature scenes, aerial shots of ancient castles and high-speed photographs of hummingbirds in flight. His interesting life and career have included a number of fortuitous turns of fate and along the way, he has worked, studied and socialized with some of photography’s all-time greats and other luminaries.
An expert in dye transfer printing who wrote the Kodak manual on the subject, he taught photography at London’s Kodak Photo School, was a lecturer at the Salisbury College of Art and was a professor at Cal Poly State University before running a portrait studio in San Diego.
Born and raised in Britain, Campbell took a year off between high school and college to earn money for his education. Turns out he lived about five miles from the Kodak film company’s London research laboratory. Someone told him about a job opportunity there, so he went to apply. But he was just out of high school and didn’t notice that the job required him to have a degree, preferably a master’s, in chemistry and physics.
“On paper, I had not a chance,” Campbell said. “There were all these graduates there who were 10 years older than me. But fools rush in where angels fear to tread!”
Athletic prowess would end up landing him the job. His father, a cricket fanatic, started training Campbell for the sport early in his life. He later rose to be captain of his school’s cricket team and also played for England’s under 21 team as a fast bowler (along the lines of a baseball pitcher skilled at making the ball move while in flight). He was about to be disqualified for the Kodak position he applied for when one of the executives called him into his office. Turns out Kodak had a cricket team and they had an upcoming match against Ilford, a business competitor whom Kodak had never beaten. Campbell was asked if he was available for the date of the match. When he said yes, he was told he had the job. And Kodak finally beat Ilford.
“That was how I got into photography,” Campbell laughed.
Assigned to be a research assistant for renowned Kodak color specialist Robert Hunt, Campbell was put into a darkroom where he was given half a morning’s demonstration of the equipment and a color wheel before being put to work with orders not to come out until he made the world’s best dye-transfer print (a color printing system used from the 1920s to 1960s).
“I spent six months in a darkroom with 200 dyes, experimenting with different combinations of color,” Campbell recalled. “That’s how I learned how to make separation negatives.”
College was always in his plans, and he ended up at the University of Leicester, choosing to study geology with the thought that it would get him outside. Given the opportunity to go anywhere in the world in 1966 to make a geological map for his thesis, he chose the Scottish isle of Ilona, where he had spent much time during family trips when he was a child. He was there for two years, living in and helping to refurbish the Abbey of Ilona, a sixth-century abbey owned for 300 years by the Clan Campbell (distant relatives of the photographer’s family). He would return in 1987 to photograph castles on the isle for one of the three photography books he has published.
Part 2 of this two-part series will appear later in March.