One Man's Camera Odyssey: Self-Taught Piscataway Photographer Globe-Trots for Pictures
by Ralph J. Bellantoni
Nearly everyone has seen the picture by now--it may be the most iconic image from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The stunning "Bird's Nest" stadium glows in the evening blue, its intricate patterns and bright hues shimmering on the waters.
Photographer Ron Wyatt of Piscataway shot 50,000 pictures during his three week assignment for the Kodak Hospitality Suite at the 2008 Olympic Games. But the image that became his most famous came almost as an afterthought. On Wyatt's last night at the games he readied for departure by packing five large bags full of gear, and started pushing them along on a cart.
"Then I saw the nest across the way, all lit up and reflected in the water," said Wyatt. "Exhausted as I was, I just couldn't pass it up. I fished out a camera, took some exposures, and held my breath."
That iconic Olympic image joins 29 others in an exhibit of Wyatt's work opening at the Calumet Gallery in New York with a reception from 7-10 p.m. on Wednesday, October 26. "Ron Wyatt's China" presents ten large-scale prints (30" X 40") on paper from the 2008 Olympic Games alongside 20 further images on canvas of Chinese landmarks such as The Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors at Xi'an.
Wyatt's Beijing Olympic experience marked the culmination of a 33-year journey that started with his first marriage in 1975. He brought a borrowed Kodak Instamatic camera with him on his Bermuda honeymoon.
"The pictures I brought back were awful," says Wyatt. "They were out of focus and shaky. I was so unhappy with them that I decided to study photography."
At the time, Wyatt worked on the chassis assembly-line for General Motors in Linden. His new hobby soon led him into freelance work for newspapers and sports photography. On winter Sundays he would hop from city to city chasing good weather and highlight shots of NFL games for USA Today, TV Guide, Gameday Sporting News and other publications. His sports photography weekends began eating into his regular work week until he finally left GM altogether and became a full-time photographer in 1983.
Wyatt covered professional basketball and baseball and other sporting events as well. Eventually the rigors of sports photography wore on him, and by 1995 he had switched his focus to corporate and editorial photography. He currently covers corporate assignments for Six Flags, Eastman Kodak, Continental Airlines, CVS, PepsiCo, Verizon, and many others.
A deeply religious man, Wyatt does freelance photo and video work for Christian ministries across the nation and internationally. This past August, he documented televangelist Joel Osteen's massive "America's Night of Hope" event in Chicago. Wyatt sees photography as a God-given gift.
"God has opened a lot of doors for me," says Wyatt. "I always pray before major assignments--I ask that I take pictures pleasing to God, as they will then please my clients."
Wyatt's increasing renown as a photographer led to Unique Photo of Fairfield, NJ, assigning him as a speaker at the 2009 PhotoPlus Expo--the preeminent photo convention in the U.S. As he nervously awaited his turn at the podium, the naturally talkative Wyatt struck up a conversation with a tall man standing nearby. That was how he met Mike Gulbraa of M&M Photo Tours, Inc.--which occasioned Wyatt's return to China.
"I knew Ron as a quality photographer with a great work ethic who had experience at the Beijing Olympics," said Gulbraa. "I asked him if he'd like going back to China as a guest pro on one of our tours, and he agreed."
M&M Photo Tours, Inc., provides all-inclusive photography trips to exotic destinations like Cuba, New Zealand and Antarctica. Wyatt served as the guest teaching pro on their "China's Best Treasures" tour in September of 2010, where he captured many of the images in the Calumet Gallery show. Overwhelmingly positive feedback from the tour encouraged Gulbraa to hire Wyatt for upcoming trips to China, and to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
"Ron really connects with attendees," said Gulbraa. "He's very personable and real. Everyone gave him perfect marks--they praised his patience and said they learned simple things that they'd forgotten."
Gulbraa also appreciates Wyatt's distinctive skills as a photographer.
"Ron's great at capturing the emotion of the moment," he says. "His background in sports photography honed his ability to read and anticipate people--he's fast on the fly."
Wyatt works hard at his craft--often attending seminars and seeking assistance from other experienced professionals. He credits a pair of friends with especially helping mentor his career--respected photo experts Andrew Darlow and Alice B. Miller.
"They put me on the map," says Wyatt.
On Darlow's recommendation, Miller wrote an eight-page article about Wyatt's Beijing Olympic experience for Rangefinder Magazine. Before that, while Darlow was editorial director of Digital Imaging Techniques Magazine, he interviewed Wyatt for an article on photography bags. They discovered that they not only both lived in Piscataway, but had also gone to school together in Colonia. Darlow advised Wyatt about sharing his experiences with others through workshops and speaking engagements.
"Since then," says Darlow, "Ron's done a fantastic job of inspiring others--from longtime professionals to those just starting out--through his personal stories and captivating images at trade shows, camera clubs, colleges and on location in China and elsewhere."
Since Wyatt strictly provides clients with digital images and never prints his work himself, he turned to Darlow for help when the exhibit opportunity arose at Calumet Gallery. Darlow became the curator for the show.
"I've been working with him to make the show look its best," said Darlow. "I can't wait to see people's reaction when they see his large-scale images on the gallery's walls."
What: "Ron Wyatt's China" photo exhibition
Where: Calumet Gallery, 22 West 22nd St., New York, New York
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily from Oct. 26-Nov. 4; opening reception 7-10 p.m. Wed., Oct. 26
Admission is Free
Info: (212)989-8500, www.ronwyattphotos.com