I was born back in the middle part of the 20th century in San Jose, California. Five years hence our family moved to a cattle ranch near Grass Valley, California where we lived until I was 14. My parents sold the ranch, and we moved to a new subdivision alongside of a golf course. During my high school years I worked at the golf course’s Pro Shop and played a considerable amount of golf. During this time my father set up a darkroom in our basement where he spent his free time developing black and white film and printing them. I would go down to watch and help him, but never really developed a desire for photography.
After graduating from Nevada Union High School I went to work in a lumberyard where I did a variety of jobs. After a year a I quit and went to work for a petroleum dealership where I spent a year driving truck delivering various types of fuels. Dissatisfaction with that led me to quit and re-secure employment at the lumberyard where I spent the next three years fabricating trusses. In 1972 I joined the Grass Valley Volunteer Fire Department where I spent the next five years fighting fires and responding to medical aid calls.
In 1977 while recreating in the snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains I lowered myself over the edge of a small concrete bridge where upon a piece of the bridge broke off struck me on the head and crushed my fifth cervical vertebrae resulting in a permanent spinal cord injury. After eight months of surgeries and rehabilitation I was released and immediately began taking classes at Yuba Community College where I lived in the dormitories. After three years there, I transferred to California State University at Chico where I obtained A Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology and a Master of Business Administration degree.
I began my journey into photography in 1988 when I bought my first camera a Minolta 5000, which had autofocus thus making a possible for me to take pictures with my limited hand abilities. Using an electronic cable release button I was able to use my tongue to trip the shutter. After taking a few rolls of film I realized I needed to learn how to take better pictures. I bought several books starting with basic photography and camera use. I spent a great deal of time studying them and learning the technical aspects of camera operation, film exposure and image composition. I immersed myself in photography and shot many, many rolls of film beginning with negative film and then switching to transparencies.
I spent a great deal of time taking pictures of trains which I became fascinated with as a young boy. My railroading images were almost exclusively taken on 35mm transparencies; starting with Kodachrome films and then switching over to Fujichrome. I’ve amassed over 16,000 slides of trains and other railroading subjects.
In the Fall of 2004 I attended my first class of Studio Photography taught by Michael Agliolo, in my opinion the best commercial photographer in Northern California. The following year I began setting up a small studio in my garage and finally made the switch to digital imaging. My initial thoughts were to just shoot digital in the studio and continue shooting slides of trains. However, after a couple of months strictly shooting digital I could never come around to ever loading film again. I held onto all of my Minolta film camera equipment for a couple of years, but it was just collecting dust so I posted it on e-bay.com, and was surprised at the proceeds I received. I am now a dedicated Canon user; utilizing both a 21-mp Canon EOS 5D Mark II and the 18-mp Canon 7D.
My early studio sessions were mainly with models; shooting fashion and glamour for their portfolios. I experimented a bit with products and still-life subjects. Over time my interest shifted toward B&W, and with the acquisition of an Epson 3800 printer I was finally able to replicate B&W printing that is comparable with traditional darkroom prints. Currently, I’m seeking to expand my portfolio with B&W artistic figure images.
- Jan G. Austin, December 2012.
Note: All of the images on this website were taken by me, including the one at the top of this page which I took in October of this year utilizing a wireless shutter release.
© J.G. Austin Photography