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Huntington Camera Club focuses on art and friendships

For many seniors, the photography club makes them smile

The Sunday Shooters of the Huntington Camera Club

The Sunday Shooters of the Huntington Camera Club gather with their cameras at the ready for photo opportunities at Captree State Park in Babylon earlier this month. Credit: Heather Walsh

Tom Mangan’s love affair with photography began nearly 70 years ago when he was 12 and his sixth-grade teacher assigned him to photograph the changes in a local swamp from winter to spring. With the help of his Baby Brownie Special camera, he aced the assignment.

Since then Mangan, 81, of Huntington, has continued to do his homework when it comes to the art of photography. Mangan, Michael Azzato, 65, of Northport and Mike Macchiarella, 93, of Huntington, are original members of the Huntington Camera Club, where they’ve spent nearly every Tuesday evening for the past 51 years learning about the intricacies of flash photography, shooting candids or chasing storms through their viewfinders. They’re among many seniors in the club who not only enjoy getting lessons in photography, but who also relish competition nights when shutterbugs can see how well their portraits of nature, travel, sports, still life, people, street scenes and more fare against those of other members.

“The competitions kept me coming back to the meetings,” says Mangan, adding that exploring various areas of photography, from car racing, scuba diving, landscapes to portraits, has perpetually piqued his interest. One of his favorite photos, an underwater shot of a shipwreck off the Florida Keys, depicts another scuba diver on the wreck’s other side framed by a large hole in the vessel.

Spun off from an adult education course at Huntington High School, the camera club began in 1966. In those early days, club meetings were much more intimate, Mangan recalls, with members taking turns hosting at each other’s homes, which gave everyone the opportunity to check out each other’s darkrooms and photography equipment. Several years later, the 20-member club moved into its current venue at the Huntington Public Library.

SEE WHAT DEVELOPS

These days, the club’s roster numbers 120 photographers ranging in age from 16 to 90-plus, and the caliber of their work is exceptional, says photographer and teacher Andreas Rentsch. In judging one monthly competition each year for the past decade, Rentsch says he looks for a good sense of lighting, a keen understanding of composition and photos that make the ordinary look extraordinary.“

The photos are consistently of high quality and it seems that there is a good dynamic at the club to excel,” says Rentsch, 54, of Huntington.

One of the group’s 18 current founders (members for 25 years or longer), Clyde Berger, learned of the club through a poster advertising “Photography with friends.”

“It was exactly what they said: great people, friendly people,” says Berger, 66, of Huntington. “I really got to learn about photography, because I was always self-taught.”

Borrowing his dad’s camera as a young teen, Berger hoped to replicate photos of people and travel locales he’d seen in Life, Look, National Geographic and other magazines.

Through his 34 years with HCC, Berger says, he gained invaluable technical insight and adds that “the club experience really improved my seeing as a creative photographer and helped me improve my compositions.”

NOT JUST TUESDAYS

For some members, one day of photo sharing is not enough. The Sunday Shooters, as the informal group is known, see the day as an opportunity to meet, eat, talk about photography and go out and shoot at various locations, says Marty Kesselman, 78, of Commack, who runs the group.

An avid Sunday Shooter, Leon Hertzson, a club member of 50 years, says they’ve gotten some of the best people shots in Northport. A couple of years back, he captured an engaging moment of a young boy walking with his family, encountering two nuns, and, as they passed one another, intentionally brushing hands with the one who was in a wheelchair.

“Being gregarious does have some sort of positive effect,” says Hertzson, 88, of East Northport.

Other rambles have included members spying the swooping egrets of Sunken Meadow Park; the snowy owls at Jones Beach; the Bronx Zoo, where Hertzson captured contemplative gorillas; and Long Island Aquarium’s snow monkeys. Hertzson’s shot of a sailor kissing a gal in Times Square, an homage to the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo, won an award at HCC’s monthly competition and was a runner-up for picture of the year at their annual competition.

An important feature of the club is community outreach, says Berger. Recently, he and HCC members Kathy Hinkaty, 65, of Huntington, and Debi Jahier, 63, of Huntington Station, taught a 10-week photography class to a dozen veterans at the Nassau County Veterans Center in Hicksville, resulting in a gallery showing of the pupils’ work that’s on view at the Merrick Public Library through Wednesday.

Members have also lent their talents by shooting Huntington’s Summer Arts Festival performances, selling photos to raise funds for the American Cancer Society and photographing homes for the Huntington Historical Society.

CHANGING WITH THE TIMES

As a youngster, Hertzson said he was mesmerized by the magic of capturing a moment on film and developing it from a negative to positive image. Though digital photography rendered darkrooms obsolete, Hertzson says he is still intrigued by that concept.

“You’re freezing time,” he says.

Husband and wife Carol and Richard Witkover, of Commack, who joined in 1980, concur that the switch to digital was the biggest development in photography.

With film, you wouldn’t know whether you had any good shots until it was developed later, says Carol, 78.

“Now, we can take thousands of pictures, which is more difficult when you have to go through them, but we get much better photography out of it,” she explains.

“You can do, through Photoshop [photo editing software], all sorts of enhancements that you couldn’t dream of before,” says Richard, 80.

“It became more of an art form with the advent of digital,” adds Carol.

Photography is more popular than ever with the ubiquity of cellphones, says Berger.

“You can be in a stadium with 18,000 people and everybody is taking pictures. That’s phenomenal,” he says. “Some of the purists may say, ‘Ah, not so much.’ But I think it’s fantastic.”

Another goal is to nurture and recruit beginning photographers through the club’s mentoring program, says Dana Richter, 52, of South Huntington, who says Stan Mehlman, co-chair of the program, has offered guidance on her portraiture with advice on lighting and focusing on the subject’s eyes and background.

“I’ve gotten better at recognizing some of the issues myself and addressing them while I’m taking the photo or fixing them in Photoshop right away,” Richter says.

Another outreach program is the annual high school competition, which in recent years has attracted more than 1,000 photos from dozens of Long Island schools.

“There aren’t many outlets for them to get recognized, especially at the local level,” says Kevin Armstrong, 57, of Greenlawn, who has presided over the competition. Judges also discuss the creative and technical aspects of the winning photos, he says.

For the past few summers, Armstrong, Berger and club president Darin Reed have volunteered at Sunrise Day Camp for kids with cancer.

In addition to providing a creative outlet, the photography program is perfect for kids who may not want or be able to participate in high-energy activities, says Dan Silver, assistant director of the camp’s Long Island campus.

“We have a number of campers who really enjoy walking around camp and taking pictures of their friends at various activities, nature, or any other number of subjects,” says Silver.

Fostering one another’s growth and enjoyment in the art of photography is what the club is ultimately all about, says Reed, 51, of Huntington. A recent endeavor, the Member Resource Initiative, allows members to share their expertise on equipment, lighting or any other facet of the art.

Adds Reed: “We’ve created an atmosphere of sharing and caring in the club.”

The Huntington Camera Club

WHEN | WHERE 7:30-9 p.m. Tuesdays, the auditorium of Huntington Public Library, 338 Main St.

INFO $70 annual dues, $55 ages 62 and older; 631-434-5462, hccny.org

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