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Garth Fraser in front of a bluff with his 4 by 5 camera. Fraser uses digital and film in his scenic and wildlife photography.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Garth Fraser in front of a bluff with his 4 by 5 camera. Fraser uses digital and film in his scenic and wildlife photography.

The path less traveled
Former Decatur engineer finds fulfillment pursuing his photography hobby as a career

By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com 340-2447

Garth Fraser was once behind a machine in the factory, troubleshooting problems or manufacturing new equipment.

Today, the Decatur man is often behind his camera in the woods or near a river or lake waiting for the light to get just right so he can snap the shutter.

Fraser left his mechanical engineering job eight years ago to pursue photography, a hobby he once only enjoyed on the side. Along with teaching photography part time at Calhoun Community College today, he also photographs local theatrical performances and shoots landscapes.

The father of two doesn't regret his decision to change careers, though he theorizes about what his life might be like now if he was still engineering.

"I'd still be in a factory, probably in a larger house, driving a nicer car but I wouldn't be nearly as fulfilled," he said.

Fraser's career switch didn't surprise Fraser's wife Laurie. "His love always was photography and that's probably what he should've done in the first place," she said.

Even when Fraser was still working as an engineer, Laurie was unable to use all the space in the freezer for food because so much of it was usually packed with film, she said.

When the couple went on vacations, she always brought a book with her because Garth would spend long periods of time setting up a picture.

Two different fields

It wasn't that far of a stretch to switch to photography from engineering, because both require technical expertise and know-how, Fraser said.

Dr. John Colagross, a photography instructor at Calhoun who also has an engineering background, agreed.

"That's one reason I appreciate what he does, because he introduces the technical aspects as well as the aesthetics," he said.

In fact, learning the technical part of photography — such as shutter speed, aperture and ISO — is typically the hardest part for students to learn, Fraser said. But an inability to grasp those concepts can be one of the quickest ways to produce only mediocre photographs.

"If you're thinking about the technical part you can't be thinking about the creative part," he said. "It's got to be second nature."

Fraser's grasp of the technical aspect of photography has helped him capture his trademark detailed landscape photographs from as far away as Mount Haleakala in Maui, to the Colorado Plateau and to as nearby as Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and the Sipsey Wilderness.

Fraser especially loves to take pictures after it rains, when the natural colors are even more brilliant.

"Most of my images are moody in that they're relaxing," he said. "I tend to go more towards the relaxing images."

Local recognition

Fraser's photographs shown at Huntsville's Panoply Arts Festival were recently recognized with a "Boeing Art Marketplace" merit award — one of five merit awards given to entrants, and the only photographer recognized. Panoply's separate photography-only contest has not yet been judged.

The judge's favorite photo of Fraser's was a foggy sunrise at Cade's Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee — one of the places he often used to go when he was younger and lived in Knoxville with his parents.

To capture the serene, panoramic photograph, Fraser ran into the park when the gates opened at sunrise (to avoid having any people in his photograph), took a series of photographs and put them together in PhotoShop.

Fraser has received other awards in the past, such as second and third place in the statewide Chancellor's Art Exhibition, as well as other honors at art shows, but it's always nice to be recognized, he said.

"I was hoping for an award," he admitted. "I truly was."

Photography upbringing

Fraser's love affair with photography began as a teenager when his dad tossed him an Exacta camera on a trip out West and told him to start shooting.

Though Fraser received little photography instruction from his father — a zoology professor at the University of Tennessee — he got something else from those nearly monthlong summer trips they used to take together out West or in the Northeast.

"He gave me the opportunity and I had to make of it what I wanted," Fraser said.

"As opposed to how to do photography, what I learned was an appreciation of the natural world."

He is continuing the father-son trips by driving to Utah and Colorado this summer with his 13-year-old son — who still prefers to shoot with a disposable camera.

Fraser still dreams of going to photograph Alaska, New Zealand and Yosemite National Park and of one day publishing a book of his pictures. But now that he's living his passion, he doesn't dream of returning to his old career, he said.

"Going into a factory and having to breathe acid fumes? I don't miss it."

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