Up In The Air
ROBERT CAMPBELL LIKES TO SAY he's just a photographer with a really tall tripod.
For nearly 45 years, Campbell and his cameras have been soaring over the Bay Area, finding new angles on old landmarks and unveiling beauty where few would ever look to find it. His shots of the Cargill salt ponds edging the bay, for example, reveal a startling palate of colors in industrial backwaters.
Campbell grew up with art and aviation. His physician father would regale him with home movies taken aboard the plane he purchased from Charles Lindbergh, the first pilot to solo across the Atlantic. Campbell's mother was an artist. But it took his years at SF State ('64–'71) to combine the two passions. Professors Don Worth and Jack Welpott helped Campbell develop an eye for composition. Later, a summer workshop in Yosemite with Ansel Adams introduced the budding pilot to William Garnett, a pioneer in aerial photography.
Under their influences, Campbell looked anew at the landscapes beneath his plane. He had long noticed the patterns of the salt ponds while learning to fly. But now he turned them into "Pollacks with power lines," impressing his professors with the first of countless shots he would take over the ensuing decades. "Don Worth was nice enough to give me an A," he says.
Campbell's hobbies also gave him front-row seats to some of SF State's most turbulent times. He photographed the campus protests of the late sixties as well as more lighthearted examples of the era's energy. He was in the air as scores of students hailed cabs to Market and Castro streets to create a mash of yellow, one no doubt better appreciated in a plane than on the ground.
Campbell left SF State to juggle flying freight with shooting photography -- sometimes doing both at once. One time he recalls taking a flight full of cargo on a detour through Arizona's Monument Valley: "If anyone asked, the basic rule was to say it wasn't me," he says.
By 1980, Campbell was focused almost entirely on his business providing commercial and artistic aerial photographs. Even now, if he's grounded too long, he gets anxious.
"It's still the most relaxing thing I know," he says.
Robert Campbell's images can be viewed online at www.robertcampbellphotography.com
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