Tom Bochsler & Bob Chambers: 115 Years of Photography

Tom Bochsler and Bob Chambers

Tom Bochsler’s career began in Hamilton photographing with a 4×5 Speed Graphic. Electronic flash was the next phase of change until the Hasselblad became the workhorse. Social and press photography evolved into commercial/industrial, his specialty for the years ahead. Industry photography in that era was “dirty, dark and dangerous.” It’s a photo-biography of his work experiences and opportunities. Visit Art of Industry for more…
Bob Chambers took a summer job as a darkroom person/assistant photographer at The Welland Tribune. He lasted 31 years as a newspaper photographer mostly at the Hamilton Spectator. In 1988 he started his own business in Burlington doing advertising and industrial photography. This final 18 year period saw Bob do photography in every province and seeing all three oceans while on projects for many clients.

Two long-time Hamilton/Burlington area professional photographers, Tom Bochsler and Bob Chambers brought their show to the PHSC meeting on Wednesday, October 19th. Their show titled “115 (actually 116) Years Of Photography, And Still Having Fun” is about, well so many different things. Basically, a broad overview of their multi-faceted careers, mostly showing dramatic images and accompanied by “much description of same and fielding many interesting comments and questions” from the members of the PHSC.

The talk this evening started with reminiscences by Bob Chambers. Bob started with a first photo of a train taken with a Kodak Pony on Kodachrome way back in 1955. In the course of his talk, he demonstrated his wicked sense of humour. The first series of pictures showed what can be done with a single light source. Bob showed an eye-popping little girl obviously delighted to be snapped.

He talked about his skill to shoot some scenes such as the ice boat enthusiasts. Then he casually explains the photograph. Turns out the boats look no different whether sailing or, as in this shot, at rest. The choice of position gives a distinct sense of motion in the static shot.

Another newspaper shot of a fireman busily attacking an early morning fire looks somber – until Bob mentions the sign (soft ice cream – hot waffles) which is so appropriate for the scene. A second shot shows some apparently topless boating enthusiasts waiting at the dock. The boat’s name “Ship Of Fools” with its pair of drooping “O”s says it all – and no, the girls aren’t topless. They have a front ‘bib‘ that is supported at the neck and hidden by the girls’ hair.

The next slides show that the picture doesn’t always tell the story – at least at first glance. The old Japanese veteran seems to be signaling victory, or maybe telling of tale of a battle – until it is explained that he is is stating he had two girls in this town during the war. The next shot, “Squeeze Left” bought a chuckle with the obviously curvy young lady on the left. That is, until Bob deadpanned that he only took the shot to show that a word was mis-spelt. The audience howled when they realized the word was spelled as “Sqeeze”.

Bob went on to show a series of shots using mirrors to confuse the eye as to the number of subjects. I found these two were of particular interest. In the first, a girl wrapped herself around a mirror at a plaza. The mirror made her appear like a large part was missing. According to Bob, the main problem was waiting for other mall patrons to walk out of camera range. This picture set up the audience for the next shot. When Bob asked how many models we saw, we all saw one plus a mirror. Then he explained there were actually two models – twins – and a plain frame that made the eye think there was a mirror.

Click any thumbnail above to see a slideshow.

Bob went on the discuss using multiple light sources before turning the lectu
rn over to Tom (Tom spoke to us back in May 2006, four years before his book “The Art of Industry” was released.) Tonight Tom went over a few of the photographs in his history, choosing some old and some new. His photograph of the Nuclear Research Facility of the AEC at Pinewa, Manitoba shows the use of remote arms to manipulate the radioactive materials. His tripod even had special booties so it could be quickly reused without a laborious cleaning and decontamination. And he photographed these pipes at the Douglas Point Nuclear reactor to show how complex the facility can be. And this one at the AEC Turbine Hall, New Brunswick Power, which shows the huge size and clean beauty of the nuclear industry in converting steam to electrical power. Photography of electric power also included this picture of the DC to AC high voltage converter used by the AEC at Dorsey station in Manitoba. The massive rectifiers convert the efficient dc current sent down from the Nelson River to the less efficient 60 cycle AC power connected to the familiar Manitoba power grid.

A company called the Valley City Manufacturing company in Dundas was established in 1884 to make the early telephone boxes – the old magneto sets. From that beginning, the company evolved into a company making special furniture for the church, lab, court house and office, etc. Here Tom shows a craftsman carefully sculpting some church related carvings.

Many of Tom’s signature shots were taken at the Hamilton steel companies. An example is this shot of the electric furnaces at Slater Steel. Tom mentions that he was waiting for the shot on the left when the nearer furnace seemed ready to pour. He quickly climbed a nearby crane access ladder and snapped the other furnace before the smoke began to billow making a much better shot than the planned photograph of the other furnace which began belching smoke, obscuring some of the display.

This massive orange gizmo is a “steel mill bridge crane” ready to be stripped down and shipped from the Bridge & Tank company in Hamilton. Tom described how he took this exposure over a period of hours by himself with the help of the company staff on site that evening. Both Tom and Bob were involved in photography at Slater Industries in Sorel Quebec, a plant that once manufactured cannon barrels. Here they managed to shoot a dramatic shot of the massive 400 ton Mesta Press in operation.

Tom shows this huge Timberjack Skidder made in Woodstock, Ontario for the forestry industry. The photograph shows the good housekeeping and safety so important in today’s industries. After a few more slides, his presentation wrapped up with his daughter’s silhouette of the progress of the photographer – with the chimp added to reflect retirement…

Click any thumbnail above to see a slideshow.

If you want to see the other photographs Tom discussed tonight, be sure to buy his nearly 200 page colour and black and white hard cover book “The Art of Industry – 50 years of photography”. A vigorous Q&A session followed the show and gave the audience the opportunity to hear how these two photographers turned 116 years into such a great success.

This page was designed in WordPress on an iMac running OS X 10.7 (Lion). Tom Bochsler provided the shot of him and Bib Chambers. All other images were taken by Bob Carter directly from the projection screen with a Sony NEX-5 digital still camera and subsequently adjusted in Adobe Lightroom V3.3 and Photoshop CS 5. Presentation images are ©2011 by Tom Bochsler and Bob Chambers and may be used only with their permission. Contents and all other images are ©2011 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Copies of photographs displayed during this presentation may not be used without the copyright holder’s permission. Contact PHSC at if you would like more information on the items discussed in this post.

This entry was posted in events, people, program and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.