Celebrating 50 years in Professional Photography - March 15th, 2006

Bochsler Photo Imaging, Burlington Ontario

This year (2006), Tom Bochsler celebrates 56 years in photography and 50 years operating his own business. His studio has changed names over the years as it evolved. In 1985, two years after moving to Burlington, it became Bochsler Photographic Associates. And in 1994 as the digital era began, the business was renamed Bochsler Photographics + Imaging. By 2002 the transition to a fully digital facility was completed and the name changed once more to Bochsler Photo Imaging. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of his company, an exhibit of Tom's work, Art of Industry will open in Hamilton July 8th, 2006 providing a retrospective of Tom's work recording the industrial life of Ontario (Tom is in the midst of producing a companion book).

Tom began the evening with a brief personal note. A half century ago, the recently married young Hamiltonian felt that after six years in the photography business, he was ready to try his wings. He mentioned to his employer that he planned to leave and start his own business in a few months, thinking the advance notice would be appreciated. To his surprise, Tom found himself unemployed and ready to start his own business that very same week! Over the years his primary objective in photography has been to create dynamic images that would attract printed media editors. Applying this principle in his news photo coverage the young photographer began to attract industrial customers. The industrial assignments generated photographs for internal promotion, public relations, and distribution to the press. The industrial customer base became the keystone to his success.

Tom Bochsler

Having set the background, Tom began an interactive digital slide show of some eighty images culled from his files. He confessed that it was very difficult to limit his choice to such a small number. Some images were chosen for the image itself while others were chosen for the story behind the image. His first slide was a shot of skaters at Cootes Paradise in Hamilton, one of his earliest images. He explained that the photo was an early success in freelance work. It was shot with a Speed Graphic and sold to the Hamilton-Spectator newspaper for the princely sum of ten dollars.

Skaters at Cootes Paradise
OAC - University of Guelph

His second photo portrayed a non-squeamish view of animal surgery at the famous Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. He took the prize winning picture while on a tour of the facilities. (author note: The image brought back memories for me of a similar OAC tour I took with my family shortly before my eldest girl began university studies in Waterloo.)

Tom moved from these nostalgic shots to a series of mostly industrial photos representing his core interest. An early photograph of manifolds for the Douglas Point nuclear reactor demonstrated some of the challenges he faced over the years. To satisfy Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) he had to create a newsworthy picture portraying work at the old plant in a positive light. Tom used strobe lighting to cut the manifold out of the dingy background inside the old building. The result was a success that led to him eventually photographing all the AECL sites over a twenty year period.

Douglas Point Nuclear Plant

Tom likes to include people in his machinery photos to add a human element and a sense of perspective and dynamics to an otherwise stark environment. In all his industrial photographs, safety is a critical concern. Each photograph has to show employees following the safety standards of the day. For example, in one image a machinist wears safety glasses while checking a huge fitting. Without those glasses, the photo would not have been acceptable to the company.

Safety  and Craftsmanship

Along with safety considerations, Tom had to solve the problems of shooting in a noisy, busy, and dirty environment. Often the solution was to shoot during the quieter night shift, minimizing the amount of dust and smoke in the air. Even then timing was critical. For example, the subject of a steel plant assignment was a huge scrap bucket. The operator positioned the bucket, moved the lid, and dropped its scrap iron charge into the furnace creating a bright burst of light and heat promptly followed by dense smoke. Tom waited for the furnace to be ready for tapping and climbed a ladder to an overhead crane to shoot down at the action. He took his shot as soon as the pour began, capturing the light and drama in that brief moment before the curtain of smoke came down and obscured the scene. The result was a photo used extensively to promote Hamilton and its steel industry.

Steel Mill
Powdered Metal Gears

Tom also created "art shots". An example captured the essence of making moulded gears - a shot featured in the Inco magazine. This process entails pouring powdered metal into moulds, compressing the mixture and heating it red hot. The result is a gear that requires very little finish machining. Tom's studio photo symbolized the powder, gear, and furnace elements of manufacture.

For an assignment at the Royal mint, Tom used a mix of strobe and tungsten light to create sharpness in a bit of blur, emphasizing the fluid motion of coins pouring into a container. In a companion image, Tom captured the delicate touch and concentration of the engraver as he worked on the mould for a new 1987 Canadian dollar coin.

Canadian Mint

To liven up some otherwise bland photos, Tom uses coloured gels over his strobes. This worked favourably in a shot in the Xenon Water Treatment manufacturing plant. The gels added just the right splash of colour while a person included in the final shot gave a sense of scale.

Xenon Water Treatment Plant

On an assignment to show the United Way/United Appeal in action, Tom chose to feature a handicapped worker whose job benefits from the charity. Instead of the traditional static pose, Tom used a sheet of glass and an unusual low angle to create an attention grabbing shot. He placed the glass between his camera and his subject like a work bench and then photographed the young lady and her teacher through the glass while she sorted bits and pieces of hardware from her temporary work bench. The portrait captured her on the job concentration and enthusiasm.

Promoting the United Way/United Appeal

In spite of due caution and care, accidents can happen and Tom gave us two anecdotes - the famous fire extinguisher escapade which is captured in Marge Lansdale's book "A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Darkroom". At the end of a long and tiring industrial assignment, the equipment was piled into the back of his van. Tom quickly left the property and headed home. Unfortunately, on the first turn into the street a loose stand toppled over and struck Tom's ever present fire extinguisher. Immediately the whole van was filled to the brim with a white powder. He pulled over to clear the air enough to drive, but it took a commercial cleaner two days the get the van and its contents clean. The cleaners even found the fine powder inside sealed camera and light cases - a disaster never to be forgotten!

The second a story is about a close encounter with a flash bulb. Late one night, while shooting photos of a huge Westinghouse transformer, Tom had workers positioned on top of the Goliath. He climbed an overhead crane to shoot down on the scene, deciding to use powerful #22 flash bulbs for illumination. Unfortunately, between balancing on the crane and concentrating on directing the participants, he accidentally fired off a flash bulb while he was still holding the bulb. The heat was intense enough to burn all the fingers of his hand, requiring a guided tour of the factory's first aid room before finishing the shoot.

GE Transformer
Loading a Turbine in Hamilton

Tom often acts as director to give his photos drama. One night He was photographing a huge refurbished turbine. The machine was sitting firmly on a flat bed car ready to be transported. Tom had the workers reconnect the crane and lift the turbine a couple of feet off the flat bed. He then included a workman in the shot "gesturing" to guide the turbine on to the car. He used two or three strong Metz 60 electronic flash units to make the machine sparkle like new. This shot had tremendous drama and strength. It was so good in fact, that it ended up on a 20 sheet billboard in the city of Hamilton.

As the night unfolded, Tom presented dozens more photos of industrial Ontario -- a breath-taking range of portraits of our engines of prosperity. You can see a selection of these  images on Tom's company web site as well as at the exhibit opening this summer in Ontario's Steel City.

Night Shot Antenna Nuclear Plant Exterior Down in the Mine Industrial Portrait

Thanks to Tom Bochsler for permission to show some of his slides on this page. The images were captured with a Sony F828 directly from the screen. Projection with a digital projector resulted in somewhat lower resolution and some colour casting in the images. Adjustments were made in Photoshop CS2. Contents and images are ©2006 by Tom Bochsler. Contact PHSC if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page.

Click on most of the small images to see a larger version in a separate window.

Bob Carter

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