Chris Lommel: Portrait of a lifetime photographer
Thu, 02/27/2014 - 11:00pm admin
From swans and natural phenomena to sports and activities, local photographer Chris Lommel has been recording events in the Big Lake, Becker, Elk River and Monticello area his whole life.
Lommel was in third grade when he moved to Monticello. Although he left the area long enough to go to university, he still calls Big Lake home.
Lommel was always interested in photography, gardening and landscape design, even while he was still a 4-H member in elementary school. These days he takes portrait photos, sports photos and photos of special events.
“I am also always adding to a collection of prints suitable for framing,” he said.
In ninth grade, his friend Pete Shelquist introduced Chris to the dark room, processing black and white film and prints and his dad, who worked for Honeywell, helped him buy his first 35 mm camera, a Honeywell Pentax KX.
Lommel was set as he began to shoot black and white photos of school events and high school sports teams for the yearbook. The first photographs he sold were to high school cheerleaders who wanted pictures of themselves practicing.
Chris spent hours in the Monticello High School (now middle school), dark room, processing and printing pictures long after school had closed. He became friends with the custodians who would help him with locked doors after school hours.
Lommel signed up for a community education class in photography, which was taught by Bruce Ellingson of the Monticello Times. Ellingson convinced then Editor Donald Q. Smith to give a young man a chance. Chris began working part-time for the Monticello Times through high school graduation and while he attended the U. of M. to earn his degree in photojournalism.
“I have always been interested in using pictures to tell a story,” he said.
As soon as he graduated, Lommel was promoted to the position of graphics designer/production manager for the weekly newspaper.
“My role included photography and design of the weekly paper and special publications,” he said.
Lommel’s duties included working with the advertising staff and staying current on technological advances in computer aided typography and design.
Chris married the high school principals’ daughter, Kim Johnson, when they both had a year of college left. The couple had met in fifth grade and say they always knew they were meant for each other. She was taller than him in those days.
In 1986, David Hyttsten hired the couple to do wedding photography. He introduced them to the art of portrait photography, an art which stood them in good stead when they founded their own studio in the early 1990s.
Lommel also worked for the Elk River Star News as an associate editor from 1988-93, covering the school district. He sees the Becker, Big Lake, Monticello and Elk River communities as very much connected.
Lommel’s garden is a riot of color in the summertime with ponds and flowerbeds, trees and shrubs scattered throughout. It often becomes a backdrop for his work, especially when it comes to taking photos of high school seniors. The Lommel’s used to do all the work themselves but these days they hire a lawn service for the heavier work.
Chris says Kim is still the great love of his life with their family and combined interest is photography. Both seem to have an innate understanding of the role light plays in photography.
“Light is necessary for us to capture anything on film or with a digital sensor,” Lommel says. “I have learned to think of light as a fluid source and continually look at how it illuminates places and people.
“I am also an avid people watcher,” he said. “I am continually seeking to learn more about the people I meet so I will know how best to capture their personality in a photograph or a series of images.”
Lommel rarely goes anywhere without a camera in his hand and that was true when he faced his biggest challenge to date, a diagnosis of blood cancer in the form of multiple myloma in December, 2001.
In January 2002, he began extensive treatment lasting two years, which included killing his immune system and undergoing a stem cell transplant at the University of Minnesota Fairview Hospital in July that year. Although he has now recovered, the illness has left him looking older than his 52 years.
Sister-in-law Cyndie Johnson held the fort at the office while Chris was in the hospital. Volunteer photographers stepped in to keep their business afloat while he and Kim were preoccupied.
Lommel was out of work for nine months recovering, but he says he is extremely grateful to the community for all the help they received during that time, including welcome gift cards for gas and groceries.
All through that time Lommel took photographs and documented his treatment in order to share the information with others. KARE 11 television news made a story about him
Meanwhile, in the work place, technology advances created their own kind of challenge.
“There have been extensive learning opportunities and a decade of advances in cameras, image editing and printing technologies that have significantly changed the way we operate our business and practice the art of photography,” says Chris, who went digital long ago.
The recent economic downturn also presented challenges as the couple continually strive to learn new techniques and skills and seek new and creative ways to present their subjects.
A Moment In Time
“I have always been fascinated with the ability of photographers to capture single moments in time that can forever be preserved, reflected on and studied in still photographs,” he said. “Even with the growing popularity of video on the web and social media, a still photograph can tell a story with a lasting impact which is rivaled by no other medium.”
Lommel sees photography as a blending of art and science. To excel at their craft, he says, photographers need to learn their technology so well they can spend most of their time and energy on technique.
His greatest joys these days include the relationships he has developed with his clients that span generations.
“We have photographed newborns again as high school graduating seniors, young children again when they have families of their own and the children of parents I photographed as high school athletes in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.” he said.
“Connecting with friends and neighbors is the greatest benefit of living and working in a smaller community,” Chris said. “Photography has given us a perspective on the circle of life that spans from newborn baby sessions to capturing the many subsequent life moments that help us appreciate and remember those now gone