Hello, my name is James McNeilly , I would like to tell you part of the story of my journey. Before I do so I would like to point out that I have been known to say "we" interchangably with the word "I" because the Studio is a part of me as I am a part of the Studio. When possible, I try to say we, instead of I, because it seems less like bragging when having to discuss factual information or qualifications regarding the Studio, and especially when we are discussing our history. I am not trying to complicate things but sometimes it is difficult to seperate the studio with me. With that in mind, I will recount to you the path I have chosen and how McNeilly Photography Studio that has been a part of me for over 30 years.
With an apparent interest in mechanical devices I repaired a broken camera I had bought from a friend for 30.00. With this camera I entered a local photo contest in Grand Ledge with a photograph I took of my younger twin brothers on a dock fishing. The photo depicted multiple signs that were posted banning fishing from the dock. Along with a rather large stringer of fish in the foreground, the "little" fisherman were busy working their lines in the background. It won a first place ribbon and only served as encouragement to create more images.
Early 1979 I approached the Grand Ledge High School Yearbook Advisor regarding photo assignments but was told that everyone wants to be a photographer and all the slots were filled. I wanted to pursue photography with a passion so I had to consider my options.
Later in 1979 I interviewed with The Independent Newspaper group which published about 7 weekly newspapers. Hired to run the Darkroom and taking photo assignments I was aproved to work co-op in my Junior year in High School. I developed, edited and printed photographs for the newspaper. I also accepted photo assigments for publication including sports, special interest , accident and news events. It was also in my junior year that I photographed my first wedding, which occured on the Island in Grand Ledge. It was after these events I was approached and asked to join the yearbook staff and also later became President of the Photo Club.
I was awarded a full ride Photography Scholarship at Lansing Community College which at the time was the top 2 year College in the Nation. I continued working at the Community Newspapers while attending college where I obtained a degree in commercial /portrait photography. We learned Portrait Photography, Commercial Studio lighting, black and white photography, developing and printing, color developing and printing. I was trained in Large and medium format photography, developing and printing. We also learned Wedding photography, TRUE photojournalism assignments as well as product photography and Design. We had access to 3 studios and 4 darkrooms to complete our photo session projects. It was a great program to be in. We were so lucky to have a LCC providing such advanced training. From Photographing, Developing, and Printing it was our responsibility to submit completed projects for grading and critique. I asked the then Bishop Kennith Povish to participate in my assigned portrait session and he accepted. That photograph was used officially and it opened the door for many years of photographic service provided to the Diocese of Lansing.
When a small building in downtown was found with a "For Rent" sign in the window we acted quickly to secure the location of our first studio. We outgrew the studio almost immediately but 4 years later we were able to move across the street at 226 N. Bridge street. We stayed for another 12 or so years before being offered the opportunity to buy the original studio location, apartments and storefront where we have remained now for over 14 years or more? It gets hard to remember exact numbers but McNeilly Photography has now been located downtown Grand Ledge for over 30 years.
During these years many notable things have occured although it is hard to recall actual dates. We were the first studio around using computers for accounting and also the first studio in the area to assemble and use instant proofing which was basically unheard of back then. We were awarded apx.16 awards through a professional photography orginization , enjoyed many unique photography opportunities and experiences. Since our beginning we have had a working relationship with two Bishops for the Diocese of Lansing and their Offices. We have Photographed MSU football coach George Perles, Domino Pizza Owner Tom Monaham. Many people remember Janet Walker's Critter Alley Rehabiliation Centerand she preferred to call on us for special wildlife photos. When Jim Fowler (from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom Show) came to town and many photographers were calling her to get the honor of spending the day with him and documenting the day. I remember Janet Walker telling me she already knew who was going to do it and was politely telling the others who were calling her.
I remember when a studio manager from the largest studio in this area called and asked me to do her brother's wedding. I took it as an honor that she chose us to work for her despite the obvious advantages of where she worked. Moreover, she was also the secretary for a Professional Photography group that allowed her much personal contact and insight with many other Photographic Professionals that she could have easily chosen. Definately an honor to have continued being their family photographer through the years.
We built a Color printing Lab in the back of the studio with digital control light heads that were rare at the time and even built an enlarger that could create 11x14 proof sheets instead of the normal 8x10 size images, for better viewing. We painted our own backgrounds, made our own motorized background roller systems as well as building and modifying photographic equipment in ways that were inovative and improved function. We were the first in the area to install a background system that would is distinctively different than the painted background system that is so common in other studios. We have never just sat back and went with the flow. Our Passion has been photography and we have put our money where our mouth is. We have followed or always was on the leading edge of photography as it transitioned into the digital age. During the years of our busiest wedding photography services we averaged 36-38 Weddings/yr..
I believe that the experience requireing me to expose film without having a video screen to preview - has made us stronger artists. We had to know in our minds what the light was going to do and how it was going to look with the kind of confidence that allowed us to photograph a subject, develop and print with consistantly great results. We had to learn what it took to get it on film without the advantages that digital now brings. I think in many cases it has resulted in new photographers who can't see light or know what is happening except they can see something on their screen. In this way I think the "ART" of photography is being watered down and the quality of the craft is looking trendy but is actually much weaker overall. If you don't see, know, appreciate or understand lighting you are just making just another snapshot.
It is amazing all the changes I have seen over my 30 year career. Interesting that some of my former classmates are teaching or running the LCC programs. I was Honored when 2 of my former Photography Instructors chose me to do work for their family members and sent me clients. Amazing that I have reached a full circle of life. I now have seen many Clients whom I originally met doing their family portraits, had me do their kids senior portraits, ended up doing their weddings and now have me doing THEIR kids senior photos. That part is rewarding and amazing for me. I have over 16 Awards for Photography and various honors through the years.
I remember being asked to judge 4-H Photography Contests. I remember teaching photography at MSU for the 4-H Youth Extention Office and also teaching students Aerial Photography at the airport. It really has been quite a journey that I have enjoyed even though it isn't as easy as it looks. I still wouldn't trade it for anything. It has allowed me to expand and explore my interests, learn how to build things and make dreams come true. It allowed me to bring my kids to work and watch them while my wife was working in surgery as a registered nurse. There are so many blessings it has brought and so many unique experiences that would never have occured if I hadn't followed my dreams.
If you go to the interests pages you will soon see us adding information about things such as sailboats we have built, flying, autogyro building and flying, airplanes, VW Bug restoration and many other things we are going to post. So for now, This is it.