Taking Time

December 19, 2022

A visit with Bill Brazill, who taught the six photographers in Generations, January’s show at Partners Gallery.

"I feel humbled and honored to be acknowledged by my former students and by the Partners. I’ve managed to keep in touch with some of my students and have heard about what they’re doing. I’m not surprised by any of these people, that they’ve continued to photograph, and that they’re doing such quality work.

It started with a class I took at the Mendocino Art Center in '64. They had a nice photography program with summer classes. The process fascinated me, and working in the darkroom was something totally new. I studied art at Humboldt, eventually getting a masters in art, specializing in photography. When Julie and I came back to Mendocino in 1974, our daughter was two, and I needed to work. I applied to work at the mill, but then heard about a job teaching high school in Mendocino. I had taught classes at the Art Center, and was able to get a good recommendation from Bill Zacha. I was so elated to be teaching and not working at the mill or digging ditches! Over the years I taught drawing, painting, ceramics, jewelry, calligraphy, stained glass – and photography. That first year we thought we had died and gone to heaven. Our first paycheck, we bought sleeping bags!”

His 1930s 8 x 10 Deardorff view camera
Opening up

Bill likes a traditional approach to photography, and this method takes time—visiting the site several times, choosing the time of day for the light and the precise point of view, hauling the heavy camera and the tripod. Bill says he's a form-oriented person, and so appreciates working in black and white. "I became passionate about it; I like the emphasis on composition and depth, and color can be a distraction.”

Bill’s photograph of the Howard Creek Inn, near Westport

What did you like about teaching?

"Teaching art in the Mendocino area, there was so much community support. The community gave donations, cameras, money. And the kids wanted to be there. When there was an in-service day for the teachers, I would spend the day with another art teacher at a school somewhere else, come home and just want to kiss the earth, so grateful that this community was where I was teaching."

The kids had exhibitions of their work at the Art Center. "They could take classes there for free. All they had to do was write up what they had liked and say thank you at the end.” Every week the Mendocino Beacon would publish a photograph of one student's work. The student would choose a photograph, write about the assignment, take it down to the Beacon, meet the editor, and see his photograph published in the newspaper.

Bill, at the entrance to the Kelly House Museum, where he has his darkroom
He prints the large films from his view camera here, developing the plates and watching the image materialize, and experimenting with contrast.

"Kelly House was given 250 glass negatives, from about 1890 to 1910, 8 x 10 photos of sites around the Mendocino area taken by Perley Maxwell, an early coastal photographer. The kids developed and printed them all. The following year the advanced students chose 20 images to work with. Each of the students picked one, and took a photograph of exactly the same view with a digital camera, framed the same way at the same time of day. We all had a lot of fun with that.”

Some of these pairs are on display in a hall at Kelly House. Maxwell's original black-and-white photographs are hung above the digital photographs taken by the students, showing the changes 100 years had brought to Mendocino.

"We had so many exceptional students. It was a wonderful job, an amazing job!"

Miriam Davis