MANITOWANING—You can’t miss the excitement in the voice of Manitowaning photographer (teacher, writer, actor, singer and notable Robbie Burns channeller) Peter Baumgarten as he talks about his recent success in a field that has been his second most lifelong passion—photography.
This past year has seen a virtual avalanche of accolades, recognition and opportunities for the self-taught shutterbug. His photographs have been garnering increasing interest from magazines and editors across the globe (we stumbled upon this story about his latest accomplishments after calling to request permission to publish a photograph of South Baymouth this author spotted in an online post).
Another winter photograph taken by Mr. Baumgarten near High Falls is featured in this month’s edition of Canadian Geographic as a two-page spread. Digital Photographer magazine, a photography magazine from the United Kingdom, is printing yet another of his photographs along with a short feature article about him and his photography in an upcoming edition and Cambrian College has asked him to teach a basic photography course in May—oh and then there is that Olympus America Trailblazers Ambassador thing.
[pullquote]“That is the most exciting part,” breathed Mr. Baumgarten. “When I got the news about that I was all alone at home with nobody to share the news with.” What is a reserved and dignified middle-aged teacher to do? “I called my mom,” he laughed. “I told her, ‘you wouldn’t believe what just happened to me.’”[/pullquote]
“That is the most exciting part,” breathed Mr. Baumgarten. “When I got the news about that I was all alone at home with nobody to share the news with.” What is a reserved and dignified middle-aged teacher to do? “I called my mom,” he laughed. “I told her, ‘you wouldn’t believe what just happened to me.’”
The excitement is infectious, it is literally impossible to not feel the passion in Mr. Baumgarten’s voice as he relates the experience. “Photography is my passion,” he said. “The only thing more important to me is my family.”
Mr. Baumgarten bought his first ‘real’ camera when he was 12-years-old. His father was an avid photographer and the young Mr. Baumgarten had just finished his first summer of working in a real job. “I made $2.15 an hour,” he recalled. “My father told me that I was not going to blow the money I had saved up in the arcade.”
Mr. Baumgarten decided that he was going to buy a camera. “My father helped me to research the camera I was going to buy,” he said. It turned out that the best bang for the buck then available on the market was a “nice little” entry level single lens reflex (SLR) camera made by Olympus. He still uses an Olympus camera for his photoshoots to this day. “I decided I would stick with what works for me,” he said.
Like many early passions, Mr. Baumgarten set photography aside as he grew up, went off to university and settled down to the roles of raising a family and building a career in teaching. Then in 2001 he rediscovered his early love of the shutter when the first digital cameras came out. “I bought a small digital camera,” he said. “It was three megapixels and cost about $1,200 new, today it would probably sell for about 50 bucks.” About half a year later he upped the ante to one of the first digital SLRs (we won’t talk about what that cost).
At first Mr. Baumgarten simply printed his photographs for family and friends and took the resulting accolades with a grain of salt. “You don’t really trust what your friends and family tell you about your work, do you? They are supposed to be supportive, aren’t they?” he asked. But then he became part of the annual Manitoulin Art Tour and not only were people saying great things about his works, they were purchasing them.
Mr. Baumgarten then discovered a website called 500pic.com, wherein photographers around the globe can post their pictures for prospective buyers. A number of editor’s choice awards followed as did paying offers for his work. “I put my best work up there,” he said. “Maybe four or five pictures a week.” That is where the folks at Canadian Geographic found him and the people from the magazine in the UK.
One day he received a call from a sales manager at Olympus America saying they had been following his work and asking him if he would consent to an interview. “I thought it was just another thing like the magazine interview from the UK. I told them could send me a few questions by email if they liked, or we could talk by phone. They said they would definitely prefer to talk to me over the phone.”
His first inkling that this was something very different came as the interview began. “He asked me if I minded if he put me on speakerphone, he had the company’s manager of social media and someone from their legal department there,” recalled Mr. Baumgarten. “By this time I knew it was something a lot more in-depth. They asked me if I had heard about their visionary program and, as a matter of fact, I had.”
After a detailed interview and a lot more questions than those posed by the UK magazine, Mr. Baumgarten was offered a one-year trial gig as an Olympus America Trailblazer ambassador. His job would be to occasionally (four or five times a year) fly into a major city for a photography event to represent the company and simply chat with users about photography. “There is no selling involved,” he said. “Each month I send them shots to use in their advertising and I retain the rights to the photographs.”
The real bonus came when the company told him not to buy any more photography equipment. “It just so happened I had just bought their top-of-the-line camera,” he laughed. “They told me to give them a list of the equipment I would like and about two weeks ago a package arrived with new cameras, lenses and other products to me to use.”
There are 12 Olympus America Visionaries in North America and Mr. Baumgarten is the only one from Canada. “I have a one year contract to be a Trailblazer,” he said. “In November they fly us to their headquarters outside Pittsburgh for a four-day session where we meet each other, most of us for the first time.” They will be introduced to the company’s latest products and have an opportunity to network and learn from each other.
Mr. Baumgarten is also looking forward to the Cambrian teaching gig. “This will be the first time I will be teaching adults in that environment,” he said. He introduced a photography course to his students in Wikwemikong a few years ago, but the Cambrian College course will be a new experience for him.
“I think I might have a few things that will benefit people starting out,” he said. New photographers are entering the field with some big advantages over that 12 year-old boy and his nice new SLR, however. “The advances in digital photography over the past five years have been really astounding he said.”
The one thing students really need to bring, however, something the 12 year-old residing within Mr. Baumgarten still has in spades—a passion for his art and his craft that has propelled him to the top of his craft and global recognition. “I just love what I do,” he said. Still, just a couple of years from retirement he isn’t giving up his day job. “We will see what develops after that,” he quipped.