Charles Bonham bought a manual 35mm camera from his brother in 1977 at the age of seventeen and set about teaching himself how to use it. After immersing himself in f-stops, shutter speeds, composition and a whole lot of trial and error, his photography hobby developed. His first feature was in a 1983 edition of the Michigan Natural Resources Magazine. Since then, Charles, a Midland native, has spent decades honing his craft as a photographer.
Bonham is a member of both the Midland Camera Club and the Midland Artists Guild. He joins us today to discuss his works of art and the hard work that goes into enlarging and hanging some of the triptychs in hospitals and corporate buildings you may have seen across the city.
Q: What can you tell us about the type of photography you do?
A: Well, I don’t really specialize in any one area. I like to think of myself as someone who can take on almost any project and use my skills to handle it. I do have two personal preferences though. I like to do architectural photography and landscape photography. It’s more personally rewarding to me.
Q: It certainly shows! Do you have a preference for manual still, or have you moved into the digital age since your early work?
A: I do prefer digital. It’s easier to get the photo you want in your mind’s eye and you can do so much more to manipulate photos with digital than you can with analog. I was never that well versed in printing my own work and it’s very hard to find places that even still do printing the old way.
My work is becoming more of an artistic viewpoint and some of my stuff is just a jumping off point from what I have taken and manipulated in Photoshop. It’s an artistic interpretation of what I’m seeing. There are however, some things where you want to maintain that ‘what you saw originally is what you get’ as an end result.
Q: What is the most challenging photo you've taken to date?
A: Weddings are always a challenge. I don’t do those much anymore except for friends and relatives. They are too high stress for me. I haven’t had any issues happen lately, but it’s not something I find as rewarding.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the challenges you've faced in your craft?
A: Well, you know, I’m doing it as a money maker and trying to support my photography habit by selling images. One thing about art is, people don’t have to buy it when times are tough. So I have been trying to find other avenues to make money with it, like doing more commercial projects.
I have done several projects in Saginaw, including the HealthSource hospital. They bought over 40 four foot by eight-foot panels to make it more interesting and to dampen noise. So we did some work with those, and then they told me all the photos had to be vertical, and that created quite a challenge. It took several years to complete, but then it was quite satisfying to finish.
Q: What inspires you in life, and in your work?
A: Being different. Finding a new way to look at something no one has thought of before, a new way of processing things and a unique perspective. I get a lot of enjoyment out of people looking at my work at art shows, commenting on and appreciating the uniqueness of it.
I don’t do a lot of imagery that is dark. Everything seems to be more towards the positive outlook on life.
Q: I think we could all use some positivity in our lives! Continuing in that area, who are the photographers or artists that inspire you?
A: Ansel Adams is certainly one, there are a lot of good photographers out there though. Ansel is who I first started studying when I was trying to learn. His photographs inspire me. Landscapes and tonalities he was able to achieve with film, and how he portrayed things in black and white that almost became abstract in nature.
Q: Is there anything you would like to photograph that you have not yet been able to?
A: Yes, I would like to go out west. I haven’t been out there since I was a kid. I would like to see Yosemite and a lot of the national parks. I would also like to go to Ireland someday as well. My grandmother is from Ireland and she came over when she was six. I think it would be an interesting place to photograph.
Q: You started at a young age and became accomplished quite quickly. Do you have any advice for young photographers or people looking to explore their creative venture?
A: My advice is to forget all of the gadgets on the camera and learn to use the manual mode. Just set the aperture and the shutter speed and the ISO, and that’s the way you learn. You don’t learn by doing it in automatic mode. You don’t know what the camera is doing, and you don’t know what you are going to get. I really advise people to read up and look into different ‘how to’ books. I also recommend trying to shoot something every day. The more you shoot, the faster you learn.
Q: What is your favorite shot in all of your work?
A: It’s the one I take tomorrow. Each day is a new challenge and I like thinking or not thinking about what’s ahead, and letting it develop. I get excited about what I might do tomorrow.
Charles Bonham’s work can be found for sale in Imagine That! in Downtown Midland, and at Smith's Flowers and Gift Gallery. You can also view his works on his Flickr page at https://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesbonham/albums.