By Glen Young
Robert Cameron always took the birds eye view. Cameron, whose works are
currently on display at Petoskeys Crooked Tree Arts Center gallery,
popularized the aerial vantage point in his many Above books. His
first, Above San Francisco, was published in 1969. He went on to
publish 16 more in the series. There are more than three million Above
books in print.
Cameron, a native of Des Moines, Iowa who died in 2009 at age 98, first
made a name in publishing in 1964 with his book The Drinking Mans Diet,
which promoted the notion that a martini or a Scotch during meals could
help take off weight. He sold more than 2.4 million copies of the popular
diet book. Forbes Magazine said recently, Then and now, the diet is work
of staggering brilliance.
The Crooked Tree exhibit features 15 of Camerons Above photos, some as
close to home as Mackinac Islands Grand Hotel and surrounding
neighborhood, while some are more far flung, such as Frances Mont St.
Michel. Loaned by Camerons daughter and son-in-law, Jane and Richard
Manoogian, the works are a composite both of Camerons vision, as well as
his adherence to the belief that photos be shot on a grand scale.
Curator Gail DeMeyere purposely hung the photos lower than she typically
hangs art, in order to give viewers a sense of walking into the scene.
Given his first camera, a Brownie 1A, on his 10th birthday, Cameron
eventually made his way to the Des Moines Register, where he worked
through the Depression, earning $14 a week for his efforts behind the
lens. He worked as a civilian photographer for the War Department during
World War II, as his health kept him from active duty.
Later he took a job selling perfume in New York, which he abhorred. In
1959, he announced to his family his desire to move to San Francisco. The
family moved the next year, and Cameron set up Cameron and Company, which
first sold champagne-formula shampoo.
After the success of his Drinking Mans book, he took to aerial
photography. Above San Francisco was his first publication. Other
titles include Above Paris, Above Mexico City, and Above Yosemite,
as well as several more. Each title features text by an authority on the
area. John F. Kennedys press secretary Pierre Salinger wrote the text
for Above Paris. Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic
Parks, provided the text for Above Mackinac.
Porter says, It was an honor and joy to work with Bob Cameron on his
book By the time he did this publication, he was already a noted
aerial photographer, having produced stunning books on some of the
most famous and beautiful cities around the world.
Camerons camera of choice was a Pentax 6x7 cm, which is about four times
larger than the standard 35 mm camera. The camera was hand-held, and
equipped with a gyrostabilizer. He used lenses that ranged from fisheye
to 400 mm. Usually hanging out of the open door, Cameron typically worked
from a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter. He was fond of saying, I always
thought that aerial photography was a big and grand subject and ought to
be presented large. Before his death, he did acknowledge the impact of
digital, though he always believed he could only do what he liked to do
with film. Cameron stayed busy taking aerial photos until only months
before his death.
The 15 photographs on display at Crooked Tree range in size from 40
inches by 60 inches (The Golden Gate Bridge on its 50th anniversary), to 6
by 12 feet (The annual Taste of Chicago). Each photo was reframed in
22-karat gold leaf for this exhibition. The exhibit is the result of a
collaboration between Crooked Tree board member Melissa Keiswetter and the
DeMeyere, visual arts and education director at Crooked Tree, says
visitors are connecting with the photographs in a variety of ways.
People talk of their experiences traveling to these areas, or a desire to
travel to these areas, she says.
Of the more recognizable scenes, such as Mackinac Island or Wall Street,
people are trying to find their homes or points of interest. Some of the
images create a vertigo feeling, especially the New York Skyscrapers, and
you feel as if you can fall into the image.
Cameron and Company, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, also
publishes Above calendars, as well as other titles on subjects as
diverse as oyster culture, sculpture, and tea.
Above: The Photography of Robert Cameron will be on display at
Petoskeys Crooked Tree Arts Center until September 5. For more
information, call 231-347-4337 or visit their website at