McCarty retires from full-time photographyApril 9, 2021
By CANDY NEAL
JASPER — As a boy, Bob McCarty saw the world through a varied lens.
He used the camera lens to display what his portrait subjects wanted to portray in their photographs.
“When somebody comes in, I don't just take him to the camera. We sit down at a round table and just talk,” the 77-year-old photographer said. “It gives me an opportunity to get to know a little bit about a lot of people.”
McCarty is scaling back his work considerably. He closed Robert McCarty Photography, which has been in business in Jasper for the last 51 years, and sold the building.
Growing up in LaPorte, McCarty was the eyes for his father, who was blind.
“I learned to work with him. Whenever we were out walking or something, I learned to see for two,” he said.
When he was in junior high, his aunt and uncle gave him a film developing kit that that they bought as their anniversary gift to each other but never used. McCarty did use it.
“We had a half bath [upstairs] with no windows. So I would put towels around the door. And I learned how to develop film,” McCarty said. “But I didn't have a timer. So I’d take my sister with a flashlight and my watch, and put her in the closet. And she had to keep track of time.
“She didn't like photography nearly as much as I did.”
When he was a freshman at LaPorte High School, he started helping with high school yearbook. “Back in those days, we’d take the film down to a local studio,” he said. “And I started hanging out down there, and eventually worked there until I graduated.” As part of the yearbook staff, McCarty did the senior pictures for about half of his graduating class, he said.
He went to college and worked on the yearbook staff, but then ended up leaving before graduating. He moved out west to Everett, Washington, which is north of Seattle. He finished his schooling and started working at a studio in the Seattle area. The company did a lot of work for Boeing. But when Boeing started making major cuts, that included cutting services from the studio.
“That's when I moved back to Indiana,” he said.
He came back to northern Indiana and started working in a photo printing lab while operating his own studio in downtown Gary. The man he worked for was also the deputy coroner. “Part of his job was every Monday morning, on the way to work, stop by the morgue and photographed the weekend shootings,” McCarty said. He noticed there more and more shootings happening.
“I thought, ‘I don't really want to carry a gun.’ But I was getting to that point,” he said. “So I looked for a business for sale.”
McCarty happened to find one in Jasper, bought it, moved here and opened his studio in 1970.
Soon after he arrived, McCarty got involved in the Jaycees and the local theater group. “I got to meet a lot of people, other than just customers,” he said. McCarty photographed the Jasper Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors in the early days. He was eventually appointed to the board and became involved in the chamber’s concert series. Later, he was appointed to the Indiana Arts Commission for two four-year terms.
He worked with Stan Krempp and Lenny Newman on the creation of the Jasper Civic Auditorium, which was completed and turned over to the city in 1977. McCarty remembered the work and time that it took to get the auditorium completed and how much they had to explain its purpose to the public.
“There were people who said, ‘Oh, that auditorium is great. We won't have to have a big new gym; we’ll just having our basketball games there,’” McCarty recalled. “Others said, ‘While you're building it, why don't you put a skating rink in the basement, so kids have something to do,’ We said no, that's not it.”
As they were developing the auditorium, they discovered they had to work with the city a lot. So they approached the city with the idea of creating the department to be in charge of the auditorium and arts programming. That suggestion eventually became Jasper Community Arts, which is still a city department but provides arts opportunities throughout the county and beyond. He he also helped create and is a member of the Friends of the Arts.
“It was the first one in the state of Indiana to be a city, tax-based arts agency,” McCarty said. “Now there are several towns in Indiana that have done it. So it’s copying Jasper.”
McCarty said people from all over the state would ask him how Jasper was able to accomplish the things happening in the community.
“Well, my answer was we’ve got a bunch of hard-headed Germans who won't spend money. But they will invest it, if you have a good cause and are able to explain it,” he said. “We had a lot of people willing to support what we're doing.”
McCarty became well known in the area for his portrait photography, especially with junior and senior high students. He takes photos of classes of students, and he makes it a point to capture a nice photograph of each student in the 30 seconds he gets with each.
“Sometimes, you’ll have somebody who will say, ‘Oh, don't bother. I'm not going to buy them anyway.’ Well, that's OK,” he said, “I'm still trying to get a comfortable smile.”
Those photos, even those that are purchased, are valuable. And some become extremely significant in unfortunate circumstances.
“Almost every year, at one school or another, that's the last picture a kid had taken,” McCarty said. “That's not what you'd like to think about, but it just happens. So that's just one of the things I'm aware of — getting a good picture in those 30 seconds is important.”
So he does his best to get a nice photo of each person he gets to photograph.
His technique involves him getting to know the person before he takes any photographs. “I want people to understand what we're going to be doing and why,” he said, “and just trying to get them relaxed.”
“A couple years ago, we had a president of a Kimball company from Poland who came in. And I sat down and visited with him,” McCarty said. “When he was done, he said, ‘I've had my picture taken many times. But you're the first one that's ever just made an effort to make me feel comfortable about what was going on.’”
He especially likes talking to high schoolers.
“You hear people talk about kids today, grumble, grumble. If you sit down, ask questions, shut up and listen, you’d learn that most of these kids are a lot sharper than they get credit for,” McCarty said. “Most of them have their head screwed on pretty straight. That doesn't mean there's not goofy ones. But there are goofy adults, too.”
Over the last 50 years, McCarty has seen several changes in his industry.
“Digital,” he said, “going from film to electronic capture. And cellphones. The biggest issue is there's a lot of people who just love taking pictures [and] are working out of their basement. The cellphone cameras are so advanced that they make beautiful pictures. But they haven't learned the techniques.”
McCarty said he has had a great career and looks forward to continue working with people in the community.
“I'm very fortunate to have a job that I really enjoy,” he said. There's doctors and lawyers [who] make a lot more money than photographers. But doctors are always dealing with people who are sick or hurt. And lawyers are dealing with people who are mad at somebody or in trouble. I get people at the good times of their lives.”
In the next phase of his life, McCarty will continue taking photos for some schools. But the studio has been sold. He will work more on restoring old photographs. Also, he and his wife, Judy, will travel.
“I’ll just make a point of making sure I've got a camera with me,” he said.
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