This Michael Campbell portrait of Britainâ€™s Princess Anne during a European equestrian reportedly hangs in the bedroom of the Queen of England.Â (photo by Michael Campbell)
Photographer’s incredible journey: Part 2
In addition to geology studies and continued photographic pursuits during college, eventual Scripps Ranch resident and professional photographer Michael Campbell competed as a high jumper in Britain.
He once held the British junior and senior record in the high jump, participated in the 1965 World Student Games and was on track to join the British team for the 1968 Olympics when a car accident injured his hip. The injury forced him to miss the Olympics, but he would return to jump for Britain in international competitions in the mid-1970s.
Years later, Campbell passed on his high-flying expertise as a volunteer high jump coach for Scripps Ranch High School’s (SRHS) track team when his son, Alex, attended. His son followed in his father’s athletic success, setting a high jump record while at SRHS.
Earlier, while teaching at Salisbury College, Campbell bought an old school nearby that he converted into a house that he lived in for eight years. He got to know the home’s previous owner, Antony Eden, who was Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s foreign secretary and became prime minister of England himself in 1955.
When Eden needed a cover photo for his memoirs, he asked Campbell to shoot it. Up to that time, Campbell had only done landscapes and other non-portrait photos. He built a set, then practiced for two weeks before the photo shoot.
“That was my first portrait: the ex-prime minister of Britain,” Campbell recalled.
One of his side jobs at the time was printing black and white negatives for Cecil Beaton, the Oscar-winning clothing designer for the movie “My Fair Lady.” This included shots of Marilyn Monroe, Marlena Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn. When Beaton saw Campbell’s portrait of Eden, Beaton, then chairman of the Salisbury Art Festival, told him he wanted to do a one-person show of his work. When Campbell confessed that he only had the one portrait, Beaton told him to do another 35 for the show.
“That’s what started me doing portraits,” Campbell said. “So, I started shooting other big wigs in the neighborhood like William Golding, author of ‘Lord of the Flies,’ and some other quite interesting people.”
In 1968, Campbell got to meet and work with one of his heroes, noted landscape photographer Paul Caponigro. Initially turned down to attend a sold-out Caponigro workshop, Campbell sent to Caponigro’s office copies of his own versions of shots of Stonehenge, which Caponigro was in the midst of shooting. Campbell was eventually allowed to attend the conference. Since Campbell lived close to the airport, the staff asked him to pick up Caponigro and take care of him before the workshop.
“Later, when I dropped him back off at the airport, he said, ‘If you’re ever in America, feel free to come and see me,’” Campbell said. “‘In fact, if you want to come sooner, you can help me with my book, ‘Megaliths.’’”
Campbell came to America to work with Caponigro for what he thought would be one month. He worked with Caponigro on the book and one day overheard the noted photographer talking with another of Campbell’s photography idols, Ansel Adams. When Caponigro told Adams that Campbell wanted to speak to him, Adams said he didn’t have time, but that Campbell could come over to his place if he’d like.
“I didn’t realize he lived 2,000 miles away,” Campbell laughed.
So, Campbell made his way west. Along the way, he followed a friend’s advice and stopped in Pasadena to meet noted portrait photographer Philip Charis. Campbell eventually went to work for Charis, sending word back to his father in Britain to sell his car — he wasn’t coming back.
“My life has been a series of weird, complete changes in direction,” Campbell said. “Because of Ansel Adams making that phone call, a chap that took me to lunch telling me that Charis was a guru, all these things, completely unpredictable. Absolutely no plan at all, just random nonsense, but somehow I’m still alive.”
Campbell did eventually go to see Adams and ended up staying with Adams for four days, assisting him and writing an article about him for the British Journal of Photography.
“He (Adams) said you can ask me anything you want; I have no secrets,” Campbell said. “He was completely open about everything.”
While working for Charis, Campbell’s work got so good that the Charis’ lab technicians told him they had a hard time distinguishing Campbell’s shots from those of Charis.
Campbell soon struck out on his own, establishing his own portrait studio in San Diego.
Today, Campbell embraces the world of digital photography, including using tools like drone-mounted cameras, Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint to help him create and enhance his images.
“I got tired of reality years ago, so, I live in a world of fantasy,” he said.
In 2017, he returned to the British Isle of Ilona to photograph castles there both from the ground and from above using drone-mounted cameras.
The veteran photographer has no plans to slow down. His work today includes professional headshots and real estate photography, as well as other projects like photographing hummingbirds in flight.
“I’m not retiring until I’m six feet under,” Campbell stated.
This is the last of a two-part series. See part 1 here: https://www.scrippsranchnews.com/family_fun/fullstory.php?ID=1569.