Les Campbell considered himself a serious “amateur” photographer and thus his approach to photography was as an avocation rather than as a vocation. Campbell was devoted to promoting the excitement and joy of photography, and for more than sixty years he shared his knowledge, enthusiasm, and appreciation for the art. He was also known for his dedication to capturing the beauty of the Quabbin Reservoir.
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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Les Campbell considered himself a serious amateur photographer, and thus his approach to photography was as an avocation rather than as a vocation. He was devoted to promoting the excitement and joy of photography, and for more than 60 years, he shared his knowledge, enthusiasm and appreciation for the art with others.
Known for his photos of the Quabbin Reservoir, Campbell passed away last September at the age of 95, and producer Dave Fraser takes a look back on his life and the many people that he touched along the way.
Les Campbell, Photographer: My first hobby really was bird watching. And I very soon wanted to photograph birds, and you just don’t photograph birds, snap your camera. So, you really have to get serious about photography. And so I did.
Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Les Campbell is considered by many to be Western Masters most well-known photographer. Over the course of his 80 year career, he was an innovator, an entrepreneur, an inventor, lecturer, teacher, as well as a master of his craft.
David Campbell, Son of Les Campbell: Of course, I wasn’t born when his career started, but by 1958, he won an award from the Photographic Society of America as the top exhibiting nature photographer in the world.
Annie Tiberio, Pioneer Valley Photographic Artists: He was somebody that was very quiet and unassuming. I learned that he lived right here on the Quabbin and I was incredibly jealous because he had opportunities to get the light however, he wanted it because he was here just about 24/7.
Dave Fraser: As a teenager, Les worked in the water quality lab at the Quabbin Reservoir. And it was there that he developed an appreciation and love for the Quabbin region.
The reservoir changed life forever for the Swift River Valley when it was built in the 1930s, and less wanted to share that story with others through his photography.
David Campbell: He spent forty four years working there. You know, he had the key to all the gates and the back roads and the key to the boat as he took water samples. So, he got to see the beauty of it and he knew the story of it.
He had relatives that lived in the Valley. I mean, it was a traumatic thing. So, he not not only wanted to make sure people could enjoy the beauty and the solitude of the Quabbin, but he he also wanted people to remember the sacrifice of the people that gave up their homes in the Valley.
Dave Fraser: Les traveled often to share his work. He pioneered multi-image slideshows with music and shared them on a wide screen.
David Campbell: I was his unwilling roadie at the time. I was tucked into the back seat of the Chevy Caprice station wagon. I think some nights we had 12 projectors to set up in a forty-eight-foot screen, audio gear, a lot of cables.
Dave Fraser: When Les retired from his work at the Quabbin, he purchased a parcel of land across from the reservoir’s main gate, built a studio so he could show his work, and called his home Sky Meadow.
David Campbell: This was his home since about ’91. He always adored this place and he loves to have people see it. Camera clubs, astronomy clubs, everyone’s welcome. Of course, he’s got the beautiful gallery here now, too.
Dave Fraser: Les’s love for the Quabbin throughout his life motivated him to establish a visitor’s center and a support organization called the Friends of Quabbin.
Les and his second wife, Teri, filled that visitor’s center with photographs and information to help share the story of Quabbin with people who stopped in.
Paul Godfrey, Friends of Quabbin: People were mostly from Boston. That was their water, but they knew nothing about how that water was generated. And that’s what Les wanted to educate them about.
Dave Fraser: Currently, there is an effort being put forth to name the visitor’s center after Les and Teri.
Annie Tiberio: We just had to have something that would be forever. And we wanted to let people know who enter the visitor’s center and know, learn about the Quabbin and learn about what happened to the four towns that are gone forever, that there was a man named Les Campbell and his wife, Teri Campbell, and it was because of them that this visitor center is here.
Dave Fraser: Over the years, Les’s work has been in many major magazines, including National Geographic. He has received numerous awards and citations from prestigious organizations, governors, senators, and more.
But his passion for the last 40 years, and what he may be remembered most for, is his love of teaching other people his skills.
David Campbell: It seems like I got hundreds of cards or calls after he passed away, and they all use similar adjectives to describe him like kind, gentle, compassionate, giving, generous, so helpful.
So many people wrote how “Oh, I didn’t even know the man. And he said, ‘Come on up. I’ll show you how to take that photo.'” You know, he just wanted people to get the enjoyment out of it that he did.
Dave Fraser: The local photographic community lost a good friend when Les Campbell passed away last September. He will be remembered as a gentle soul who was compassionate, generous, and humble.
Humble may be the reason he never wanted to be referred to as a professional photographer. He used to say, “I’m just an amateur.”
Les Campbell, Photographer: I take pictures of anything that appeals to me aesthetically. And I hope people look at it, they feel a sense of beauty and joy in looking at these images. It happens to be of a subject, the Quabbin Reservoir, which is very special.
I just want people to come here and enjoy ’em they don’t have to buy ’em, but just come and look if they get pleasure from them, that’s that’s a reward to me.