Monday, August 29, 2016

There's Art in Lemane Photography

One of the first articles I wrote  in Covington was about Art Lemane and his photography business. It was an eye-opener for me, and many others, I hope, regarding the seriousness and challenge of wedding photography. 

Here is the article.

There's ART in Lemane Photography
COVINGTON— When Art Lemane was a teenager just getting into the photography game, one of his first jobs was to take pictures of a beautiful garden on the corner of Tyler and 17th Streets.

Little did he think at that time he would be returning to build a modern professional photographic studio at that same location years later.

But his new studio does sit squarely in the middle of what used to be one of the most complete botanical gardens in town, and in many respects, still is. Art took care to keep as many trees as possible when he built the new studio, despite advice from some friends who suggested a parking lot in front.

"Trees are more important than car parking lots," he said, "especially in a town like Covington."

He and his wife Gail now operate their business from the one story brick building there, although the official grand opening isn't scheduled for another several days.

The building offers him the darkroom he's always dreamed of and a shooting studio that is nearest to ideal as a photographer could ask. He moved into the place from a small building on 21st Avenue that limited his ability to create.

Art and Gail are happy in their new studio and chances are he can be found in his new darkroom going through his newly established color processing while his wife com­piles the finished products into attractive frames and scrap­books.

It all began when Art was 12 years old and got his hands on a second hand box camera. This was during World War II when film was rationed, so he was more or less forced to be sure pictures were going to be good before he took them. Soon after that he obtained his own processing kit and was off in the technical side of the photo business, too.

At Covington High School, he was on the annual staff as photographer and even freelanced for the local newspaper.

Once in the Navy, however, he attended their photo school, doing a great deal of aerial work. When he got out of the Navy, he went into the photography business part time, working for the bank also. It was in 1955 when he got his first business license.

The first studio was in the Lemane bedroom, converted for photo use, and eventually a special room was added on to accommodate the studio work.  The room was built with the thought that if the photo work proved successful, the studio would be kept, and if it proved insufficient, then the room could be converted into a family room.

But the boom was on. From his house he went to 21st Avenue and from that into the new studio which has been in the planning stage for the past year and was recently completed.

Art's wife keeps up with photography, too, having been involved with the hobby long before she met Art. When they both lived in Metairie, they occupied houses only a block or so apart and their parents knew each other well. But it was only after Art returned from the Navy that they met, found a common interest in photography and married, that being in 1957.

The Lemanes now have four daughters and three sons as well as several pets.
Art keeps himself busy doing primarily wedding photography and portraits. His experiences at weddings range from the curious to the hilarious, for as the photographer, he has to strive to be as inconspicuous as possible while getting up close enough to get all the right shots.

Photographing weddings is a science all in itself, he feels. Timing is important, he said, knowing just the right moment to snap the shutter is the life and death issue in photography. When a wedding party is stiffly posed and looking deadpan, Art  usually tries to cheer the group up with some unexpected remark to make them crack up. In a very brief instant, everyone is wearing a natural smile and that is when the shutter clicks.

"Sometimes my timing is off," Art admits, "and the pictures reflect it. The trick in taking pictures is knowing what's going to happen before it happens."

For instance, one of the traditional wedding pictures is a full length shot of the bride and groom kissing as they stand on the church steps after the wed­ding. In one wedding, Art lined them up, focused his camera, made the proper adjustments and snapped the picture. Immediately after the kiss, however, the couple looked at each other and embraced in a truly spontaneous hug. Art caught it on film, however, because he had anticipated it, played in closer, refocused and snapped the shutter at the right time.

Various things that have happened to his embarrassment included the time he wore new shoes while photographing a wedding. They squeaked, and it just happened to be one of the quietest ceremonies he had ever been to.

He tries to use natural light when possible during the weddings, since flashes from his flashgun tends to disturb some people. Some ministers insist on the avoidance of flash, also.

One of the toughest problems in photographing weddings is getting everyone together for the formal pictures after the ceremony. He has lost more than one bridesmaid in the rush to get to the reception. "It takes a great deal of organization to coordinate everyone in a wedding party," he said.

His motto comes in handy in times like those, however. It is "Be reasonable—do it my way."

One of his remarks designed to crack up stone-faced wedding parties is "Look at my wife. . and laugh." It's a ploy Gail can understand, if not appreciate. Another is his looking into the viewfinder, halfway smiling and say, "This looks pretty good. . considering what I've got to work with." That if bound to bring some puzzled looks, then a smile or two or three.

"Anyone can work a camera and take pictures," he said, "but the business of photography is 60 percent psychological. Everyone has a key to being natural. If they are uncomfortable and stiff while I'm taking their picture, it's not going to come off well. Once I find their key, however, I can take a good natural shot."

He told of an old man who refused to cooperate while having his portrait taken. He remained stiff and straight-faced. It was only when Art brought the conversation around to trains that the man's face brightened. He had been a railroad engineer, he began, and he continued to tell Art about his life on the train lines.

Once his key had been found and his interest diverted away from the camera, Art obtained a series of truly meaningful portraits. Art's second love is railroading, anyway, and the portrait session proved to be quite a good time for both of them.

"You've got to keep your mind on two levels while taking portraits," he said. "You have to keep an eye out for the artistic while making sure you're being technically sound."

The problems in photography come on both levels, also.

"Sometimes everything goes wrong," he said. "I was on my way to one wedding when I found the bridge out and had to go another way, throwing me late. When I got there I found out my flash unit wasn't working and while driving back to get another flash, I got a bee locked in the car with me and that was no fun."

As a matter of fact, sometime before a wedding Art is almost as nervous as the groom. It's quite a responsibility, Gail said, to know that parents and relatives and the couple themselves are relying on you to capture a photographic record of the happiest event in their lives.

"I have to concentrate quite a bit when I'm photographing a wedding," Art said. "Sometimes after three hours of such demanding activity as sneaking around taking ceremony shots and then lining up so many people, I am exhausted."

It all boils down to caring about the couple being married. "You have to care," Gail said. "You have to know that these pictures will be looked at forty to fifty years from now and will become more important as time goes on."

"Photography is primarily working for the future," Art commented.

One of the pressures of weddings is that if something isn't right, he can't come back the next day and take them all  over again. He has to be right the first time, and that is where caring about the folks being photographed comes into play.

"The photographer becomes a part of the family for that one special occasion. He joins the festivity, enjoys the goings on and captures the spirit of the occasion on film," Gail said. "We love people in general, and that's what it takes."

The essence of a professional, Art believes, is that he gives 100 percent of his ability at all times. Taking pictures is very rewarding; some people are able to appreciate his work, others are not, but every picture of merit is someone's treasure, he feels.

What is his favorite kind of picture? "The picture I'm taking at the moment," he says. "Each picture is a favorite in its own right."

Some of his proudest pictures include brides bathed in natural sunlight dressed in their finest wedding gowns. "Sunrise Over Galilee" is his favorite land­scape shot.

Now with his brand new studio to play with, Art finds new fun in photography. Asked to describe  his new place in a nutshell, he replied, "I think it's a whiz."

His darkroom comes complete with two enlargers, a special homebuilt fiberglass photosink and a lighting system that is controlled from any of several stations. The darkroom even has a special water chiller that cools tap water down to the proper temperature for processing color film, a new field that Art is doing well in.

He's especially proud of his new large studio with its neutral gray carpet running along the floor and up the wall. Now he can take pictures of the largest family group with a background that just doesn't exist. He also  installed a large picture window in the studio so he could utilize natural light when he wanted to, one of his favorite techniques.

The best part of all about the studio is the view from the window. It is a lush garden scene, the same garden that he photographed back when he was a teenager with a box camera. He has plans for that garden; it will make an outstanding backdrop for truly natural outdoor portraits.

So Art Lemane is back in his garden, pursuing his ability in photography to its limits. It is a pursuit he will enjoy.


Here are the actual newspaper feature pages. Just CLICK ON THE IMAGES below for a larger, more readable version.

Art and Gail Lemane

Also in 1972, Pathways Magazine ran an article on Art Lemane. Click on the image of the article below to enlarge it to a more readable size. 

Art died in December of 2016 after a lifetime career of capturing important memorable moments on film for thousands of families throughout St. Tammany Parish. Here is a link to his obituary. 

An advertisement from 1972

 An Art Lemane photograph of his daughter
Kappa Alpha Sweetheart Lynda Lemane

Art and Gail Lemane in 2010