Long before computers and Photoshop, and decades before digital technology, Ted Wiley took pictures. He developed the film in his own darkroom, creating birth announcements and fun family Christmas cards. Over the years, his artistic photos have won multiple awards and blue ribbons.
On Oct. 19, his 90th birthday, the Spokane Camera Club honored Wiley with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I started taking pictures in 1939 when I was still in high school in Coulee City,” Wiley said.
He took his camera with him when he joined the Army. In 1945 he was sent to Germany with the 97th Infantry Division. “I’ll never forget the sound of machine gun bullets zinging from off the tombstones,” he said of one fierce skirmish.
After fighting his way through Germany, Wiley and his company were sent to Japan as part of the occupation forces. While there he was asked to teach photography to other soldiers. Wiley recalled, “I bought film in 100-foot rolls and reloaded my camera under a blanket.”
When he was discharged from the Army, Wiley came to Spokane, where he met his future bride, Nina. “I went to the bus stop downtown and saw this gorgeous redhead,” he said. “I got on the bus and sat right behind her.”
He didn’t ask her out then, but two weeks later he saw her again at a dance at Natatorium Park. “I asked her to dance,” Wiley said with a grin.
On Feb. 5, 1948, he married that gorgeous redhead. She quickly discovered his love of photography. “He always had a camera with him,” Nina said.
Wiley took a job with the U.S. Weather Service, now known as NOAA. The couple had three daughters, and Wiley’s career took the family to Oregon and then Utah.
“He was on the road all the time,” Nina recalled.
Ted agreed. “And I always took my camera with me.”
His daughter Denise Richards said, “We can’t recall a time when our father was not taking photographs. We weren’t aware until much later in life that dad’s passion for taking pictures had evolved into an art form. We just knew that the images he created captured memories, images that have become family heirlooms on our walls and in our hearts.”
She and her sisters remember watching him wait for just the right light over a wheat field or patiently discovering the largest dewdrop on a flower petal.
When Wiley retired in 1979, he and Nina returned to Spokane. “We had a dear friend who was very active in the Camera Club,” Nina said. “But Ted wasn’t a joiner.”
Eventually, she talked him into attending a meeting, and he was hooked. So was she. Nina said, “I went a few times with Ted and fell in love with the people. The Camera Club is wonderful for education, but also for friendship.”
Established in 1932, the Spokane Camera Club meets twice each month at the East Central Community Center. The organization welcomes photographers of all levels and experience. “We currently have about 70 active members,” said club president Donna Larsen.
In addition to the regular meetings, the club offers workshops, field trips and sponsors the photography exhibit at the Interstate Fair. At each meeting, a professional photographer critiques submitted photos. Larsen stressed, “You don’t have to enter photos to come to the meetings.”
Wiley prefers to be the man behind the lens, so the Camera Club had to arrange a surprise presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
He’s embraced the digital age but eschews color. “I prefer monochrome, probably because that’s what I started with.”
His pictures adorn the walls of their home. Beautifully framed artistic shots of the Pavilion at Riverfront Park, an orange peel, railroad tracks all testify to his talent. But he’s never sold a photo.
“I don’t want to be a professional,” he said.
While Nina doesn’t take pictures herself, she is a willing assistant.
“I name the pictures and look for photo ops,” she said. “This passion is what has kept him young.”
Wiley smiled. “I plan to keep taking photos as long as I can hold a camera.”