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a different azimuth
the website of johnny neel

my photos

"There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs." ~ Ansel Adams

 My dad was a good photographer and sparked my interest in taking good photographs.  He and Mom gave me my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 124, when I was about 12-years-old.  I still have many of those photos.  My next camera was a Canon AF35M, bought after my deployment to Grenada, vowing to never travel without a camera again.

I became serious about photography during my first tour to Turkey, where i supervised three great Army Photographers.  To make sure I knew what they were doing, I made them teach me.  Bob took me to the PX to buy my first real camera kit, a Canon AE1 program, a flash, and two lenses.  Jim gave me my first rolls of film, compliments of NATO, and took me around the town and taught me to use the camera and to think through the process of making a good photo.  Gil took me into the darkroom and had me develop my own film and print my first photo.  I was hooked.

I read every book I could find.  I experimented.  I mostly failed but had a few successes.  My three photographers cut me no slack; they critiqued ever minor detail, every mistake.  I got better.

Soon, I had my own darkroom, and I loved the time I spent there, but, it took too much time away from the family and a soldier has so little time of his own.  About the time I went to Kosovo, the digital age was in it's infancy.  I had taken some computer courses at VMI, and now I had time to learn more.  I had kim buy me my first Digital Camera, a Sony DSC-30, 1.3mp, Cybershot, and I bought a pirated copy of Photoshop at the local street vendor outside the gate.  The camera and my computer kept me sane through the lonely days at Film City.

I found that I could do in seconds in digital, what it took hours to do in the darkroom.  Now I combine the best of both worlds, shooting in digital and film, sending my film off to California to be developed, scanning negatives in to my computer with my scanner, and adjusting with Picasa, Photoshop, and (learning) Gimp.

I call my style, if I have a style, "Journalistic."  I live to document my times and places, and especially my people.  I strive to be a good technical photographer, and not an artist, but maybe they occasional mingle in a few lucky tries.  I enjoy photographing my people.  I think it was Francesco Scavullo who said that you need to be a little in love with a person to take a really good photograph of them.  I believe this must be true for me as my best photos are of the people I love.

Here, then, are a few of my favorite photos from years past and a few newer ones as I continue my love of the photographic process.

Kady and Bustopher Jones

Taken at VMI before we left for a Cotillion in Richmond, this was set up as a photograph of my wife.

Jay is Happy

Jay and Kel out for a day of photos with Dad.  Rockbridge County December 2011.

Kim in Izmir

An available light shot of Kim in Izmir, December, 1985.  This was taken with my Canon AE1 Program, with a 70-210mm lens, with Kodak Plus-X 125, developed with Kodak Microdol-X.
Catch UP!

My Daughter Elise in Winston-Salem NC, at my brother, Jim's art show opening.  She hates having her photo taken, which is a shame for someone so pretty.


Taken during my first tour of Turkey, on a solo walk up to Kadifekale, the fortress on the hill above the city.
Old Age Should Rage and Burn

I have taken a lot of photos of trees lately.  I think it is because I appreciate their longevity.  I took this old sentinel's photo in Kentucky at a Clay Target Competition.

It caught my eye because the top was torn off, I assume by a tornado, and because it has a bad case of heart disease, but it refuses to die.  The new limbs stretch up toward the sky in what looks like defiance, challenging nature to do its worst.

Am I that brave?

The title I borrowed from Dylan Thomas.
No, I'll Do THIS!

Taking photos of my grandson is always an adventure.  Taking an available light photo of this kid, who is in perpetual motion, is never easy.  Adding a sucker and the promise of more, I was able to get a few good shots, as long as the poses were on his terms.
Thistle in Fall

I love wild flowers, but none more than thistle.  Perhaps it is because, though they are beautiful, they look too dangerous to touch.
Orchard Breeze

Taken in the apple orchard at Bushong House at new m
Market Battlefield on a hot May day.  I like the soft feel of this photo, which I manipulated with Autodesk.
There Stands Jackson

Statue of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, looking a little too super-heroic, on Bull Run Battlefield, Manassas Virginia.  This day, the clouds cooperated, perfectly framing my subject.

July 2010

Beautifully framed by the smoke from her cigarette, Turk friend Gülümser sat for me for a few sessions.  I don't do photography better than this.

June 2001
Rumple Teaser

Our second Turk street cat rescue, R-T, was my best buddy.  He is gone now and this is one of my last photos of him.
Sarah in Summer

Family friend, Sarah.  All I did was frame and release the shutter.  Of the 400 photos we took that day, nearly every shot turned out fantastic.  Credit the model.
Three Generations

An impromptu and spontaneous photo, with them leaving the house, me happening to be out front with my camera, and a quick "POSE!" from me.  Happenstance sometimes makes for the best photos.

Peddler Bridge

I once spent time out in the George Washington National Forest every May, chasing VMI Cadets through the woods.  This is one of the most picturesque areas of my old job, and well worth a visit.
Do Not Climb on Artifacts

I have taken more photos of this pretty girl than anyone else.  Dwyn calls me her photographer.  The camera loves her.
So J Crew

Looking at this photo, someone commented, "This is so J Crew."  Erin, taken for her Senior Photos at Mary Baldwin College, Erin.


It was a bit sad that my daughter had no attractive friends in College.  As sweet as she is beautiful, Christina was one of the first of Elise's friends I met.
 Falling out of Parade

Taken through one of VMI's iconic windows, this photo has been passed around the VMI Community many times.
 London Girl

It not in my nature to take a photograph of someone I don't know.  This girl had to be an exception; she was gorgeous.  Taken in London in 1988 or 1989, the grainy quality is from a mistake I made in the washing process during developing.  This one barely survived.

 None Shall Pass

This was one of those big snows we got at VMI, taken as Kim and I went walking with our cameras.

Cadets returning from Downtown Lexington after General Permit.  They must return to Barracks by 8:30 PM.
 Eutrophic Design

The beauty of nature on my front stoop.  Then VMI Buildings and Grounds came by and cut it down...something about it being bad for the wood and stucco, blah blah blah.
 Brother Rat with Dogs

Mt Brother Rat, Erica '04, came buy for a visit and photos.  We had been planning for so long.  This was my first try with a person and animals, but we got a lot of fun shots that day.
 The Lonely Post

Taken on a football game Saturday, this is Post #2 at VMI.  The school is guarded by cadets 24 hours a day, everyday the school in in session.
 My Maryland

I drove all the way to Maryland for this photo. Shari was a member of the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL) program at Mary Baldwin College.

 This Dress Needs Photos

I received a text and photo from Ryan saying, "This dress needs photos."  We met the next day, a work day, for photos and it went very much better than our first shoot together.  Envy me, the photographer.

 Ryan in Natural Light

There has got to be a place in photography, in this day of flash filled, strobe lit, screen reflected  photographs, for this look.  Without the light filtering through the trees, we may as well have been in the studio and missed the beautiful day, the cool breeze, the gorgeous park.
 First Try with the Mamiya 6x7

I decided long ago to begin taking photos in black and white film again.  I found a used Mamiya RZ-67 at a reasonable price. This shot is from the first roll, trying out the camera and testing the light meter.  Looks like both work fine.

This is a great feat of photo engineering.  Cooper, my daughter's dog, thinks he's very funny, looking away from every camera pointed at him.  The trick?  Hold his ball where I want him looking.  Taa Daa.
 Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island Georgia

Taken on a very warm and buggy February day, with my D5100, 18-55mm f1.8 AF.  The ease of the Nikon paid off as the bugs found me. 

Take Bug Spray next time.
 They Have Not Seen The Stars, Not One, Not One

Catherine, Taken at Battery Park, Charleston, the title of this photo if from the opening lines of a Ray Bradbury poem.  That poem was the first thing I thought of when I saw this photo.
Last Photo of VMI

Taken from the inside of Jackson Memorial Hall, the cadet chapel, with my Mamiya RZ-67, on my last full day at the Institute.
Harper's Ferry Rails

The Railway leading to Maryland from the little town of Harper's Ferry.  There is so much History here in Virginia.
Looking Toward a Future

Self portrait, looking out the dining room window at 404 Parade.  This photo and my expanding waistline were the things that convinced me it was time to go.
Cornel Tower

Friend Dwyn, nicely framed inside the observation tower at Bloody Lane, Antietam, on a day intended as a historical trip that turned into a great photo shoot.  Never Plan, I say.
How-do-ya-do Ma'am?

Jake man showing a little Southern gentlemanliness, out on the Chessie Trail, Lexington VA.
"If such a thing had happened once, it surely must have happened many times in a universe of a hundred billion suns."

Wilmore, Kentucky, February 2014

Arthur C. Clarke's book Rendezvous With Rama was the first thing I thought of when I saw these three shadows crossing my path. I didn't know how much I would like the photo until I got home and had a look at it on my computer.

The three trees reminded me of the premise of the book- "The Ramans always do everything in threes."
Few Come to Visit

An old mill, taken on a photo trip with Kady.  She makes for the best, most fun Photo trips.

Sarah and her cute sister, Natalie.
Marcon! Marcon!

Replica of a statue in France, given to the National D-Day Museum in Bedford Virginia.  Absolutely worth a visit if you are in Virginia.
The Other Roush

Pretty MBC Friend, taken at  Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton, on a day too hot and crowded for photos.
Valerie at Rest

My old running and workout partner, Officer sand Friend, Val.  I miss those days when she and I ran races around Virginia and would beast each other in the VMI Gym. 

I was a fit man back then.
Without a Song, You Ain't Got a Friend

A Charlottesville street performer, Ricky was around during Elise's Wedding and entertained the area around the venue and where we were taking photos.  He's no musician and certainly no drummer, but he is fun.  I went back to the Mall to take a few photos and and heard the sound of his buckets from way up at the  top of the street...unmistakable.
I Shall No Longer Make The Reckless Choice

Here is That Tree, a lone sentinel that caught my eye the first day I came to my new town.  It watches the traffic going to and fro on Highway 29, people in a rush to get where they are going. It speaks to me, "Slow Down!  I've seen your kind before.  Take it Slowly. You are Still Young.  Enjoy your time here.  You will too soon be gone."
Kady's Barn

After years of discussion, a little arguing, and saying over and over that we would and should, I finally stopped the car on the side of the road, got out with the camera, cut across the angry owner's pasture, and took this shot of the Sweet Water Farm barn...for HER. 

The little chicken sat in the car, certain I would be shot.  I am certain that in years to come, she will claim she took this photo.  That's OK;  I won't remember.
The Boss Lady

The Summer of 2001 was a magical time in my life, partly by meeting a young business woman, Sevda, who ran a modeling agency in Izmir Turkey.  Before long she had me working on her web site, taking portraits of her models, and traveling to shows to take photos.

Of all her models,  she was my favorite subject.  Smart, fun, sweet, and incredibly gorgeous, she was a natural in front of the camera and taught me how camera angle could be used in fashion photography to enhance proportion.

She always knew what she wanted in a photo, like borrowing my glasses for this shot. She was the director, I was the photographer. 

It worked.

How I wish I could go back and do these photos again with the cameras I have now.
Beauty is Ageless

Taken on the Charlottesville Mall, I set up this shot of Ryan with just the right spot and added a couple of props...the cup and the book.  It worked nicely, contrary to what I was told would look "contrived." 

You can see this pose all day long on the mall, just not with anyone as beautiful.

The title is from a quote by Marilyn Monroe, "Beauty and femininity are ageless and can't be contrived..."

Ryan and I spent the afternoon taking great photos with all my cameras. 

How I miss this little lady, now that I've left Lexington.