BLOWING ROCK — Watching ‘Sunday Morning’ with Charles Kuralt had a profound impact on Lonnie Webster. So did his grandparents’ subscriptions to Life magazine and National Geographic. They all featured spectacular, wonderful, and beautiful photography.
“That explains how I got started in photography,” said Webster at Edgewood Cottage where, from June 27 to July 3, he is one of two featured artists in the Artists in Residence series hosted by Blowing Rock Historical Society. “Seeing those wonderful photographs, I became fascinated.”
Webster has grown with his photography passion through previous careers.
“I grew up in central Kentucky. The day after I turned 18,” Webster recalled, “I was hired by IBM, working in a typewriter factory in Lexington, Kentucky.. Today, young people don’t even know what a typewriter is, but I worked in that factory for seven years. It was extremely boring. Then one day I got an opportunity to take a test for something called, ‘customer engineering,’ for IBM. At the time, the only thing I could think of was that I would do anything to get out of that factory. After the test, they put us in a row in front of a blackboard where there were a bunch of city names chalked on it. The guy behind me read one, ‘Winston-Salem, North Carolina. That’s a real nice place down there,’ he said before adding, ‘It is beautiful.’
“So when they got to me and asked what city I would be willing to relocate to, I said, ‘Winston-Salem, North Carolina,’” added Webster.
Webster said that he bought his first 35mm film camera, a Canon, at a drug store when he was about 16 years old. Then, around 1990, he bought a better Canon 35mm at a pawn shop, along with what he described as a mediocre lens. All the while he was capturing better images as he grew in what was then a hobby.
Working for IBM as a regional representative in western North Carolina, Webster developed a pretty good client list.
“You may have heard of that little hardware store down in North Wilkesboro, named Lowe’s. They were a major customer of mine, as was Northwestern Bank, which became First Union, then Wells Fargo. Then, in 1988, IBM sold that products division to Kodak and I was part of what got sold. Thankfully, I made it to retirement before Kodak went under,” said Webster.
Kodak, said Webster, was one of the casualties of the photography industry’s transition from film to digital.
“When I retired from Kodak, I got into landscaping here in Blowing Rock, where I have lived for the last 32 years,” said Webster. “I did landscaping here for eight years, but as I turned 60 I noticed that my truck had gotten higher and gravity a lot stronger. I decided i needed to look for a different occupation and that was photography. It was about 2006 that I started taking photography really seriously.”
Webster started taking professional photography classes and learned that photography was more than clicking a shutter and taking snapshots.
“In those classes,” said Webster, “I learned a lot about composition. A lot of things make up a good photograph. Lighting, of course, is one. Then there is a foreground, middle ground, and a background. And you also need a leading line and a story to go with the photograph. When someone looks at it, they shouldn’t have any question about what you were photographing. They should know exactly what the subject is.”
For the former typewriter factory worker now turned professional photographer, his artistic work is his passion.
“I enjoy capturing the life I live, documenting the events that I witness, whether in Blowing Rock, with family, gardening, or travel. I like photographing events,” Webster said, describing his profession.
“I remember one event in particular that provided some interesting photographic moments,” he continued. “I call it the ‘Rainy Day Parade.’ It was the 4th of July Parade in Blowing Rock. It was absolutely pouring down rain, but it looked like everyone was still having a good time. I captured some of those moments.”
Webster added that for so many of the photos, you happen to be at the right place at the right time with the right light.
“I do better photographing events that are taking place. Photography is all about light. You are not ‘taking pictures.’ You are capturing light and life.”
The Artists in Residence series at Edgewood Cottage is hosted by the Blowing Rock Historical Society from May through mid-September. The exhibits are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the artists available in the cottage to talk about their work and answer questions. Much of the art is also available for purchase, with a portion of the sale proceeds benefiting the Blowing Rock Historical Society.