Monday, October 19, 2009

Loon Lake Photographer's Technology Preserves the Past

Set back on East Main Street in Hornell close to the river is a white house with a small sign out front advertising photo restoration and historic images.
Step foot in the door and you have entered Colby Classic Photos, 284 Main Street, owned by Norm Annis, local photographer and restorative expert. In every room there are historic photos displayed on the walls and albums overflowing with generations of portraits, along with many artifacts of a by gone era related to photography.
Annis did not start out with intentions of becoming a photographer. Instead he went into finance with a love of history on the side. For years he worked with his dad at Colby Electronics right next door, and it wasn’t until the 70’s that he got interested in photography. He discovered some old photos of Loon Lake in Wayland at a Springwater antique shop, and he purchased all of them. That peaked his historical curiosity, and from there he taught himself how to restore old pictures by trial and error.
“Everything is a learning experience,” Annis said, and he has gone from the darkroom to digital employing Photoshop in his work improving as a result of each project.
When someone brings him a photo to restore Annis first asks, “what do you want fixed?” and then goes from there. He steps back to take a look at the overall picture quality and considers the possibilities. He starts with fixing the tones of old prints to brighten them, then he removes stains and sometimes he does an enlargement from a miniature picture. One photo took eight months to restore and every bit was a part of his learning curve. Often people will bring in family collections of stereo views for him to transfer to photos.
“Without digital photography to reshoot an old picture or Photoshop to retouch, restoration would be next to impossible. It would take much longer and would not achieve anywhere near the quality.” More importantly to the customer, it would be unaffordable for the average person.
Having grown up on Loon Lake it has been a natural place for Annis to experiment with photography. He has enjoyed connecting bits of history with old pictures in his collection, too. There are a few old timers left to talk with and the rest are in the prints that Annis has collected which speak of the years when the lake was bustling with rowboats and sailboats near Lindenwood Point in the 1880’s. As a history buff he is always looking for old photos of the lake.
Annis is eager to give advice to fledging photographers. “ Don’t settle for one visual element in a photograph such as a sunset. You need a few more elements to make the scene more complex.” He suggests studying the work of other photographers and then to begin personalizing your own work.
Loon Lake affords an excellent backdrop for his signature panoramic photographs. Annis has two favorite times of year, and although he will often shoot right from his own house, he also tries to get pictures from a variety of locations. He likes the combination of fall foliage, sunset and ducks on the water, as well as the last day or two before the ice sinks in late winter. The colors reflect and scatter all over making for unusual images.
On the docket right now, Annis is trying to capture the perfect picture of the wind turbines in Cohocton with the sky and earth as backdrops. He is also perfecting the art of taking action shots at local moto cross-hill climbs and at Civil War reenactments.
“I’ll be getting back into black and white photography because the form is defined by the lighting, and it brings its special challenges,” says Annis, obviously not one to shy away from self-improvement.
Annis has a website: that expands his interest to historic Hornell and early photographic studios there.
As our interview was ending a local photographer had come in to talk about the craft of photography, not camera equipment, he explained to me, and someone was picking up a restored print.
“Tomorrow the shop will be closed while I go on a photo shoot,” Annis said gleefully for all of us to hear.