Tales of a Photographer

George Hunter

Mr George HunterGeorge Hunter has over 60 years of photography under his belt, beginning when he was ten or twelve years old. In 1937, his school sent him to the coronation of George VI which he snapped with a Voigtlander Bessa.

A natural story teller, his talk was a hilarious perspective on the life and excitement of a photographer in the last half of the 20th century. George is still active today using traditional films, however; he confesses that he has moved on to digital printing.

Mountain Image - Digital VersionHe brought two sample shots each printed with traditional and digital technology to demonstrate why he has embraced digital printing. The traditional prints, made via an inter-negative, were a bit flat and off colour which George suggested might have been due to the age of the 6x7 transparencies. The digital prints, made from a high resolution scan, were correctly colour balanced with good contrast and sharpness.

Garden Image - digital version

Traditional vs Digital processesLater in his talk, George pointed out other differences in the two digital prints. In the mountain scene, the mid range trees were sharpened so they stood out from the background while the print of the garden had flowers added to fill gaps in the garden and some clutter in the background removed -- changes much more difficult to do in traditional processes.

Aerial Camera

While visiting London, George took his first aerial shots from an autogyro through the Perspex window. Ever since, his numerous aerial shots have been taken with the door of the aircraft removed! An early outing was almost the end of George's career -- to the surprise of both George and the pilot, he fell out the open doorway and landed on a wing strut. Between the two of them, George was finally pulled back to safety.

A story unfoldsNick Morant (CPR) and Harry Rowed (CNR) were his mentors in photography. The two were consummate practical jokers. George relates receiving a call from Malak one day. The Ottawa photographer was concerned about George's health -- turned out the two railroad photographers led Malak in to believing they had beaten up George for poaching their photographic territory!

When beginning his career at Stovel Brothers in Winnipeg, George was so green he had to call a Kodak representative to show him how to load the camera's film holder. His first shot, a coffin taken on Kodachrome, was still good fifty years later.

Moving to the Winnipeg Tribune, he learned how to persevere - on call 7/24 during the years of WWII for the handsome sum of $20.00 a week. Trying to get a night off, George almost missed the biggest fire to ever hit Winnipeg. One of his shots that night took up the entire front page of the next day's Tribune!

Another time he covered a murder trial and was invited to view the hanging. At a society event, George took extra pains to be sure the name of each person in the group photo was correct to meet the demands of the group's very particular coordinator. His efforts were wasted when the paper printed the photo backwards, making all his carefully recorded names wrong!

The plot thickens After two years at the newspaper, George moved on to a five year sojourn at the National Film Board. At the end of a holiday in Europe, George visited Sabena Airlines and was offered a free trip to the Congo. He called his boss to get an extension to his holiday and told to get back to Ottawa.

When George arrived home, he decided to quit working for others and go it alone. Since his interest was aerial photography, he asked his bank for a $7,000 loan to buy an airplane. He was turned down. A friend suggested trying her bank. There, after hearing George's story, a loan was made and George was in business. Rather than shop for clients, George came up with ideas, took his shots, then sold them to his prospective customer.

He did many assignments for Time-Life in New York, including one of his most notable. Getting involved in a discussion on the impossibility of taking night time aerial shots, he accepted the challenge and was given two weeks to complete what became "USA After Dark". With the tight schedule, he approached Kodak in Rochester to borrow an f/1 lens which he knew they were developing. He learned that a single sample had been manufactured and it was in Ottawa at the NRC. He obtained the lens and mounted it on a huge aerial camera.

He had a ten minute daily window to shoot. This was the narrow time interval when dusk moved to dark and you could see both lights and the surroundings so it looked like a night shot. The film had to be push-processed about 2 to 4 stops and even then the pilot had to briefly stall the plane to keep the camera steady enough for a few shots -- most of which were fuzzy.

Everything went smoothly until they landed in Denver. On landing they directed away from other traffic and surrounded by government officials and police. They had accidently snapped images of a restricted government facility! The officials wanted to seize the film -- which had many images other than the restricted site. A quick call to Time-Life in New York convinced the heavies that the photographers were legitimate and that the film could only be push-processed in New York or Toronto. Accompanied to New York, the team processed the film and turned it over to the officials who returned it with a half dozen frames missing.

Vacuum back on aerial cameraAnother technique George used to get good shots was to add a vacuum back to his cameras as shown here. This adaptation kept large size films flat and improved the sharpness of his images (some easels are made with a vacuum connection to hold large pieces of photographic paper absolutely flat).

These are just a few of the stories and anecdotes we heard during the evening. You can listen to the full talk on tape. Contact our Curator, Mark Singer for details.

Shooting the shooterGeorge, shown here getting his official PHSC portrait taken by Bob Lansdale, wrapped up his talk with a plea for better conservation and management of Canada's photographic heritage. George is interested in learning about any pictures of Canada, especially those taken by Canadian photographers. He recently established the CANADIAN HERITAGE PHOTOGRAPHY FOUNDATION. The concept is to build a database of images and show thumbnails on the net. Prospective purchasers would visit the site to review the image resources and purchase high resolution scans of selected images.

Well that's it for this month. If you want more information on George Hunter or his presentation, you can email George via his web-site The images on this page were taken with Nikon 990 digital camera and adjusted in Photoshop. Please note that all images except the two landscapes taken and copyright by Mr. Hunter are ©2003 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada (PHSC) and may be used if the source is mentioned. You can contact the PHSC at

Bob Carter

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