For many years, Ross Mitchell was the face of the Cariboo Observer, however, it was a long and winding road which led him to professional photography – his lifelong passion.
Quesnel has been his home since he was 12. Always strong in the arts, Ross said his first photographic inspiration was the work of his high school teacher Dennis Seimens.
But still Ross didn’t pursue that inspiration, he chose architectural drafting after high school.
“I also have a passion for genealogy and long before I ever owned a camera I took my mother’s old pictures and created a dark room in the bathroom with the light switch as my exposure time and cake pans for developing trays,” he said.
“I wanted to see the faces which led to me purchasing an enlarger.”
But still no camera.
Finally, in his early 20s, Ross bought a second-hand, older Pentex K1000 film camera. Two hours into ownership, the cloth shutter ripped and he had to send the camera away for repairs.
“It was too much to fix, so with what they gave me for my old camera I bought a Pentex ME Super, a more advanced model,” he said.
Again, his efforts to follow his photographic dreams were sidelined. At the age of 25, Ross was diagnosed with a tumour in his knee.
“I had a knee replacement but it failed,” he said.
“It was very painful and my future was pretty bleak.”
He couldn’t walk or work (he was on his feet all day in a planer mill) and the young man turned to photography to help him move on.
Ross shared his photography passion with others and together a photography club was formed with Ross as the president.
“The challenge was to stay ahead of the other club members,” he said with a laugh.
“It provided me with direction and focus.”
With mobility a constant challenge, Ross was determined to resolve his knee problem.
“They fused my knee and I was able to walk again,” he said.
“Albeit with a limp.”
In 1991, the photography club was flourishing and Ross was volunteering with the local cable company where Observer publisher/editor Jerry MacDonald happened to notice him.
“Jerry became my mentor, he took a chance on me,” Ross said.
“I was hired for part-time darkroom work. He said he was impressed with how I took charge of it.”
It wasn’t long before Ross was urging Jerry to send him on assignments.
“I was doing that on my own time,” he said.
But Jerry was also encouraging Ross to reach outside his comfort zone, suggesting ways to improve his photography and through it all building Ross’ self-confidence.
One of his proudest moments was the first time his work appeared on the front page of the paper. It was a story about traffic jams in Quesnel. Ross put a skeleton in the driver’s seat of a car and took the picture with a long lineup and bridge construction in the background.
“The job led to a whole world I’d never expected to experience,” Ross said.
“Meeting amazing people and taking phenomenal pictures.”
But more than that, Ross became known all over town as the face of the newspaper. If it was happening in Quesnel, he was photographing the event. Highway accidents, festivals, sports activities, and the proud moments in many people’s lives, all were captured by Ross and prominently placed in the Cariboo Observer.
“I wasn’t trained in journalism so I was free to push the boundaries. I didn’t know what the rules of journalism were, so I didn’t have to follow them and I didn’t know when I was challenging the limits,” he said with a grin.
But dedicated he was, often working as much as 16 hours a day, just to get the picture, capture the moment, record those important occasions in the community’s life.
To this day, people approach Ross as though he’s still the Observer photographer.
His passion for photography has brought Ross through very dark times and he loves to share what he’s learned with others.
“One of the highlights of my time at the Observer was the chance to mentor Jerry’s daughter Autumn,” he said.
“It was an honour, and she’s a very good photographer.”
He remembers the first digital camera at the newspaper. Autumn was handed the equipment and together they figured out how it worked.
“Digital photography revolutionized the newspaper industry,” Ross said.
“For me it eliminated the darkroom and the need for a dedicated photographer. Reporters could now take their own pictures and my job, as I knew it, disappeared. I lost interest in photography for awhile.”
However, once he converted to digital himself, Ross renewed his interest. He faced a new challenge and rose to the demands of the new technology.
Although he’s moved on to a new career, professional photography is still a huge part of his life. Ross is also busy with his thriving freelance photography business including weddings, portraits, community events, celebrations, photographic retouch and repair, website photographic sales and all other things photographic.
Someday he’d love to possibly open his own studio.
Ross continues to mentor new photographers through courses at the Arts and Rec Centre and a new photography club explores exciting new techniques and members share their love for the craft.
In-studio sessions are restricted to club members but outdoor excursions are open to the public. Quesnel Photography Group is for experienced photographers and all public events are posted on the website.
When asked why he teaches his photography skills to potential competition, Ross was clear.
“I find developing better photographers challenges me to elevate my skill level,” he said.
“I want to inspire but am also inspired by my students.”
However, Ross is not only inspired by his students, but by those he photographs.
His imagination and unique personal touch with weddings, portraits or whatever people request are widely known and respected.
His photographs have been published in highly-respected national and provincial newspapers and magazines including the Globe and Mail and B.C. Outdoors. Ross is also the recipient of numerous photographic awards.
To contact Ross visit his website www.rossmitchellphotographics.ca or call 250-747-1006.