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  • Writer's pictureDon Toothaker

Long Lost Friends

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

What started as just another day yesterday turned into a very special day that left my heart full of emotion, gratefulness, and pride. Yesterday afternoon I managed to reconnect with a person who has been highly influential in my life for years, but sadly, he didn’t know that. I have not seen or spoken with Ian Proudfoot in over three decades, but he has been with me every day since I met him in 1986.

Over 30 years ago, while stationed in England at RAF Alconbury, I bought my first 35mm film camera and my journey in photography began. Like every beginner I was overwhelmed and unsure at the start, but I knew, from the first click of the shutter, that photography would be part of my life forever. At RAF Alconbury, working in my base administration job, I worked alongside a fun, cheerful gentleman by the name of Mr. Ian Proudfoot. Ian was a retired RAF photographer, who, upon learning of my new camera and interest in photography, generously and kindly took me under his wing to help and mentor me. Ian was always available to coach me, guide me, and instruct me as I fumbled with learning my camera and the fundamentals of photography. We would talk photography at work, discuss camera settings over a few beers after work, and take photos together in the local market on some weekends. He would often review my weekly prints and critique me honestly which, at times, hurt, but more often his input motivated me to keep trying. In a relatively short period of time Ian taught me much, but, more significantly, he inspired me for a lifetime. Many years later, now as a professional photographer and instructor, I have traveled quite far, literally and figuratively, with my cameras. I credit much of that to what Ian shared with me years ago. I think of Ian often and while instructing others I do my best to inspire them just as he inspired me. Unquestionably, Ian’s greatest shared lesson was the value of working in monochrome. In 1987, seduced by the colors of Kodak and Fuji, I naively rejected his discussions regarding the benefits and necessities of learning in black and white. Today, a bit wiser and more seasoned, I could not agree more with him. Ian was right. The path to becoming a better photographer is rooted in the beautiful tones of monochrome.

The versatility of digital photography eventually woke my senses to the beauty of working in black and white and understanding its' immense value in learning proper exposure and better compositions. Black and white hides nothing. Today, I proudly work in black and white quite often and do my best to advocate for its' beauty and benefits even more often. I am not sure how “good” I am, but the world of monochrome has made me a better photographer. For many years now I have wanted Ian to see, and know, that the time he invested in me was fruitful. Yesterday, after taking a chance and reaching out to a Kevin Proudfoot on Facebook, I learned Ian, and his lovely wife Jackie, both in their early 80s now, are still alive and still living in England. I was so happy to call Ian and speak with him for about a half hour. I was even more happy, and proud, to explain to this humble, fantastic man where life has taken me. I could sense his big, hearty smile on the other end of the phone as I told him how much I now preach the necessity of monochrome to all that will listen, beginners or not, just as he did for me years ago.

We finished the call with promises to keep in touch and I will. When his son Kevin visits him he will show him my website and my work that remains so heavily influenced and inspired by his kindness and expertise decades ago. I wish I could be there to see his reactions at that moment, but time won't allow for now, but I fully intend to visit Ian and Jackie soon. Photography continues to teach me great lessons about life that I am still learning. Time passes quickly, but it is never too late to reach out to someone that matters to you and let them know you care. Today I feel a renewed sense of purpose, and energy. to help more, to be better at what I do, and to follow my creative vision as much as possible and for as long as possible. In the words of Mr. Ian Proudfoot “ that’s brilliant”. Thank you Ian for everything and many thanks to his son Kevin for helping me find my long, lost friend.

Photograph What You Feel

There is a short 12 image slide show, all in Monochrome, below. I hope some click through it and see the beauty that is available in black and white and, perhaps, they too will be inspired as I was, and am.

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