Sunday, February 15, 2009


It is always a little strange when you write about your parents.  Growing up you have no problem telling your friends about your parents, what they have done to you or for you, mostly the bad and not often enough the good.  Putting it on paper is strange because it seems some how official and or permanent.  Because the blog is primarily focused on photography it wouldn't be right not to mention where my interest probably started, Dad.  

My Dad Jack E Matthews has done many jobs from delivering ice in his youth, in the navy during WWII, teaching skiing, tennis, photographer, technician, an inventor, a craftsman, jeweler, salesman, consultant and assorted other talents.

After WWII he went to photography school in Los Angeles.  In 1950 he started as a photographer, shooting for Convair and later General Dynamics based in San Diego California.

As a child then an adolescent and eventually an adult you ask your parents about their pasts and their presents, like what did you do during the War, what was your first job, what is your job like now etc.  In my case I would get some great stories, however as a child you don't always pay as close attention as you should and sometimes the details of what you remember fade.  I knew my father was a photographer from my earliest memories.  Having pictures taken of mom, the dog, the cat, me, sisters and grandparents, the backyard, growing up, broken leg, vacations and christmas.  By the time I was old enough to know anything dad was starting to do specialty photography working at the high speed wind tunnel photographing tunnel tests.  I remember that he at one point returned to night school to study more math because he has an opportunity at a promotion to a wind tunnel test technician.  In 1968 he left General Dynamics as so many others did at that time, due to change in the country and the world.  Contracts were canceled and the wind tunnel was sold.  He and my mom at that time had had three kids and a new house with the mortgage that goes with it.  Mom was starting back to work and bills and food required him to look for the best he could get to meet our needs.  This he found in managing the photographic department at the then newly opened JC Penny.  He has done many things since that time as I have already alluded to but other than occasionally bringing a camera out for holidays, special events, and or some of his projects, he seamed pretty much done with photography.

I have been shooting pictures for over thirty years now off and on.  I had cameras when I was growing up however they were basic and I could not take a sharp photograph if my life depended on it.  My dad let me borrow his Leica for senior grad night at Disneyland and after that I got the bug.  Over the years I would occasionally find or discover an old photo that he had taken when he was in aerospace but as most know, pretty much everything he had photographed was classified and or the property of the company and he was allowed to only keep a few.  For the last 20 years I have been the photographer/videographer for the California Ballet Company in San Diego, California.  So I have been amassing quite a large collection of dance photography/video and because of this growing collection I remembered my dad's collection of his photos stuck in the back of closets, in drawer, in desks, etc.  When I started this blog I thought it would be great for him to start his own blog or at least publish a page on mine.   So last June I asked if he would bring me his photos so that I could scan them and post some of them, kind of as a tribute to those years as a photographer.  When he brought them to me I was excited and a little shocked.  

Some of the ones that I remembered the most were not among the ones he still had.  My parents have moved twice since the last time I saw those favorites.  He doesn't remember what happened to them maybe they were lost in one of the moves or discarded and or given away to friends.  At the time he really was not worried that they were gone.  One of those pictures was of an experimental aircraft that was called the "Pogo Stick" and the other one was of an Atlas missile launch at Cape Kennedy (not the kind taken from the press location but much closer).  The photos that he did save are a very small collection of his years a aerospace photographer and earlier.

Growing up I knew that my dad had done some traveling as a photographer for Convair/General Dynamics.  He would go were ever they sent him to photograph a plane, jets, person, rocket, missile, or test.  I do remember a photo of him sitting on a desk wrapped wallet picture fold outs taped together with 50+ security clearance cards from all the projects he was assigned to photograph.  Some of the time he took pictures from the plane pictured above.

The above photo sequence is a rocket sled ejection system test that he photographed I think in 1956.  It may have actually photographed around the day I was born.  My dad was in Alamogordo, New Mexico at Holloman Air Force Base when my mom went into labor.  My dad was flown back to San Diego during my birth so he could see me.  When you ask my mom she said he got back to see me but he had to return to shoot more pictures and left her with me, a boxer puppy and a kitten.   

I am just now coming to the realization how special and exciting this time must have been for my dad.  To fly all over the country photographing the exciting world of aerospace.  Getting to photograph top secret projects and not so top secret projects but to have the same job but very different subjects requiring very different photographic set ups.  To be using large format cameras, to have to use flashbulb strobes or movie lights.  Being in a position to have to think on your feet and to have to bring all the equipment you will need (very big and heavy in those days).  Shooting film and having only one opportunity to get it right.  I think I know now why after leaving General Dynamics my dad did not become a commercial or portrait photographer.  He did what most would only dream of at that time and after he was finished with that experience, anything that would follow would some how be less in so many ways.  He loved his family and always worked very very hard at everything he did to provide for us and some how attempt to find something that was as or more exciting than what had come before.  This realization is conjecture on my part because Dad is not here any more to ask.  We lost Dad on November 2 2008 to lung and bone cancer.  It was sudden, quick and with little pain which was a true blessing.  I wish I had done a better job remembering to ask my dad about the things he did as a photographer, before I was born and as a small child. He loved to tell stories as all of our family and friends and anyone in ear shot know very well.  I wish I had been more proactive in saving his work.  He has been always very supportive and critical of my work which I have always appreciated.  Looking at what is left of his work I can say that I will have to work much harder to even come close to his accomplishments as a photographer.  My Dad was a  photographer that deserves to be remembered for the part he played in the recording some of the history of aerospace in the 50's and 60's.  We all miss him very much, he had a great life and strangely enough I think in someways the thing I will miss the most are those stories. For Dad this is some of his work and his tribute.

All Photos © Jack E Matthews    All rights reserved.