Local photographer takes historic pic
A professional photographer for more than 30 years, Denmar-area resident Doug Chadwick has taken thousands of photographs, but few with the historic gravity of a panoramic photo he took in Charleston on July 2.
On that day, the flag-draped coffin of Senator Robert C. Byrd rested on the front terrace of the State Capitol, where national leaders waited their turn to eulogize the most prominent West Virginian.
Hundreds of dignitaries packed the Capitol steps behind Byrd's coffin and thousands of mourners crowded the Capitol grounds to bid the senator a final farewell from his beloved Mountain State.
Chadwick stationed himself and his tripod-mounted panoramic camera along a railing to the left of the crowd. As President Barack Obama stood at the podium, Chadwick carefully chose his moment and pressed the shutter release. The vintage camera's mainspring whirred into action, powering the camera in a 180-degree arc.
Chadwick would not see the results of his work until the next day.
Working in his cluttered, but well-equipped workshop, Chadwick developed the 10x60 inch strip of film in a specially-designed bath, revealing a perfectly exposed panorama of the historic event.
A huge, somber crowd looks on as the President speaks at a podium next to Byrd's coffin. The faces of dozens of state and national leaders are clearly discernible in the perfectly-focused shot, including Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Governor Joe Manchin, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senator Jay Rockefeller and Congressman Nick Rahall.
The photograph has special meaning for Chadwick because of his high regard for Senator Byrd.
"I thought he was wonderful," he said. "He's somebody for whom I gained more and more respect over the years. The best example is his opposition to the war in Iraq, which was not only unpopular, but took him from being a representative of the people to being a leader."
Chadwick was born in North Carolina and grew up in Maryland. He began studying photography at Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington, in the mid-1970s and has worked in photography ever since. He worked as newspaper photographer with the Fayette-Tribune in Oak Hill and the Beckley Register-Herald during the 1970s and moved to Pocahontas County in 1980.
Chadwick worked as an artist-in-residence in the early 1980s, teaching students by day and adults at night. During this period, Chadwick developed a deep appreciation for the work of West Virginia photographer Red Ribble.
Ribble traveled and photographed the southern West Virginia coalfields from 1919 to 1957. Using a large format Cirkut camera, Ribble created an extraordinary collection of panoramic images of coal towns and coal miners.ﾠ
Cirkut cameras were developed in the early 1900s by the Eastman Kodak Company. Powered by a mainspring, the camera rotates on a turntable-style tripod head and records a panoramic image up to five feet in length on drum-mounted film.
Inspired by Ribble's work, Chadwick obtained a Cirkut camera and panoramic photos became a staple of his business. The market for the Cirkut's 10x60-inch photos is surprisingly brisk.
The Denmar photographer travels to Las Vegas to take wide-angle shots at sports car conventions. He photographs landscapes and old coal towns. He visits state legislatures and takes panoramic shots of the assemblies, which he sells to individual legislators.
Coincidentally, Chadwick first photographed Obama as a freshman member of the Illinois state senate, but did not sell him a copy.
He recently took a group photo at the former logging and mining town of Duo, in Greenbrier County, now the site of a 100-turbine wind farm.
"Red Ribble shot coal miner groups and logger groups pictures in Duo back in the 30s or 40s," he said. "It's a very funky, old coal town."
Examples of Chadwick's photos can be seen at the Washington Street Gallery in Lewisburg and The Art Store in Charleston. Those interested in his panoramic and conventional photography can call the photographer at 304-653-4916.