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Al Olson

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Al Olson

A North Dakota native, Al Olsonís interest in photography began in the mid-40s when he was given a hand-me-down, fold-up Pocket Kodak Jr. In those days, not far removed from the Great Depression, film and processing were expensive so not to be wasted. Often a roll of film would last for a year or more.

Then a friend introduced him to the darkroom at the local YMCA. After watching the magic of images emerging in the developer he was committed to the darkroom process. In 9th grade he received a 35mm with adjustable focus, aperture, and shutter speeds. Later he obtained a Kodak Retina IIIc with the luxury of a coupled range finder and a non-coupled exposure meter. He joined the school annual staff where he used a 4x5 press camera and performed darkroom chores. These activities were consistent with his interest in science and mathematics.

While at the university, Al was invited to take over photo responsibilities for the college annual. For this work he acquired a 4x5 Super Graphic complete with the strobe and heavy battery pack. The school provided the darkroom. He also had a freelance agreement with The Grand Forks Herald, which brought him additional photo assignments. These journalism influences are recognizable in his style today.

In 1960 Olson was accepted for a summer position at Aberdeen Proving Ground where he worked with the ORDVAC, an early, one-of-a-kind computer. Following college graduation he was drafted into the Army during the Berlin Wall Crisis. At this time he became married and began raising a family. The Super Graphic was traded for a 35mm Nikon, much handier for recording the activities of his two sons. Kodachrome was the prevailing film choice. It provided color and was cheaper than color prints (which at that time were not of the highest quality).

© 2005 a.c.olson -- Baltimore Inner Harbor 2002

Following his tour of duty, he returned to graduate school for an advanced degree, then taught mathematics for two years at the university before moving to Indianapolis where he developed mathematical models of gas turbine engine geometry and built computer programs to optimize the engineering designs.

Al returned to Aberdeen Proving Ground to build computer programs for war game evaluation of weapon systems. His career continued with a number operations research positions and then a job at the US Geological Survey where he created a computer mapping system for evaluating coal resources.

It was not until the late 70s that color print processing became feasible for amateurs. At this time he purchased color equipment and created a darkroom for processing color film and prints.

Then there was a hiatus caused by further moves, where construction of a new darkroom never materialized. A move to Denver in 1982 to join Martin Marietta was followed in 1984 by establishment of his own company to market his micro version of computer mapping to oil service companies. This led to more consulting and maintenance work until 1996 when he moved back to Virginia to join a company started by friends.

Here the powder room of his home was enlarged into a darkroom. It was at this point that he joined four camera clubs. Guest judges were invited by the clubs to critique monthly photo competitions. This was a learning opportunity as well as an evaluation of the quality of his images and is reflected in his winning two Photographer of the Year plaques.

Moving to Pagosa in 2004, a storage area in the loft of his home was converted into a darkroom. Al has been exhibited at the Durango Art Center, the Southwest Studies Photo Show, the Kent Denver Art Show, Shy Rabbit, Open Shutter, the Cortez Art Center, thenocturns.com, Daylight Doughnuts, La Tazza, the Pagosa Photography Studio, Denver International Airport, Colorado State Capitol and the PSAC Gallery. He is active in the Pagosa Springs Photo Club and been responsible for organizing three of the photo club shows at the PSAC Gallery.

Olson works with negative films. His equipment includes all formats from 35mm to 8x10 view cameras. His recent work emphasizes black and white photography, often using infrared sensitive films, and the use of large format and medium format cameras. Many of his prints articulate the passing cultures of the Anasazi and the ghost towns of the miners. Al creates his exhibition prints in the darkroom where he processes both color and black & white films to produce silver (b&w) and color prints.

© 2005  a.c.olson -- Moon Over the Mall 2002

View Projects

Anasazi Ruins
Colorado Ghost Towns
Still Lifes


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Al Olson
(970) 731-9801
a.c.olson@CenturyTel.net