Pam Heckel started a street pho­tog­raphy project by taking vintage photos at the Hillsdale County Farmer’s Market. Courtesy | Pam Heckel

Pam Heckel ‘98, a local pho­tog­rapher, set up a vintage camera to the farmer’s market in order to capture the essence of Hillsdale County — all while raising money for a good cause.

This peculiar and portable darkroom often attracted attention at the Farmer’s Market.

“When people walk past my table at the Hillsdale County Farmers Market, they usually see my big black box first and wonder what it is,” Heckel said. “It has a small door on one end and a pant leg hanging off from the left side. Often I have my view camera dark cloth draped over the top and it looks a lot like a magician’s box. In some ways, I like to think of it as such.”

Com­bining her love for vintage pho­tog­raphy and her involvement with The Her­itage Asso­ci­ation, Heckel com­pleted her most recent project.

In col­lab­o­ration with The Her­itage Asso­ci­ation, Heckel began her Street Por­trait Project in an effort to raise money for the association’s Black Bear Project.

The Black Bear Project will place bronze statues of a mother bear and her cubs in front of the Baw Beese Walking Trail in order to raise awareness for the species and to provide a bit more beauty to Hillsdale County.

“The Street Por­trait Project is extension of my interest in the ways that pho­tog­raphy can be used to convey a sense of place,” Heckel said.

Heckel spent many Sat­urdays at the Hillsdale Farmers Market with the portable darkroom that she built with the help of her husband, Christopher, in order to com­plete her project.

Par­tic­i­pation in the project was free of charge; passers-by would simply inquire as to what she was doing and then proceed to have their picture taken.

Heckel, orig­i­nally hailing from Litch­field, Illinois, received her B.A. in Art from Hillsdale College and later an MFA in Pho­tog­raphy from the Savannah College of Art & Design.

She cur­rently teaches pho­tog­raphy and digital imaging for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh’s Online Division, which she has done for over ten years.

While she pursued Art in college, Heckel’s artistic interests began much earlier.

“I was in junior high, maybe a little younger, when I first started learning about pho­tog­raphy. I made photos of favorite objects and animals and land­scapes. I also did a lot of pho­tog­raphy for my high school yearbook,” said Heckel.

Exploring pho­tog­raphy at a young age sparked an interest in her that would come to fruition during her time as an undergrad at Hillsdale College, where she dis­covered what route of pho­tog­raphy she wanted to devote herself to.

“I per­sonally fell in love with black and white film pho­tog­raphy after taking an intro to pho­tog­raphy course at Hillsdale College and learning how to develop film and make prints in the Sage Center darkroom over 20 years ago,” Heckel said. “Most people don’t see this of side pho­tog­raphy today.”

Hillsdale College juniors Hadiah Ritchey and Frances Weise were among the many to have their por­trait taken by Heckel at the farmer’s market.

“I found out about Pam Heckel when we went to the farmer’s market as a group outing for the New Dorm,” Ritchey said. “We were walking around and exploring when Pam reached out to us. She was very friendly and kind. I appre­ciated that she was using her skills to support wildlife.”

Weise echoed Ritchey’s sen­timent when she said, “Pam was super kind and nice to talk to. She seemed really excited about her project and it was really quick to take the photo, so I thought, why not?”

Shortly after their por­traits were taken, par­tic­i­pants could pur­chase a copy for $10 (all pro­ceeds going to The Black Bear Project). All por­traits were dis­played as an exhibit at Rough Draft and Studio 42 beginning Sept. 27.

As far as future projects go, Heckel is as full of ideas as she is enthu­siasm.

“I have a strong interest in stereo­scopic pho­tog­raphy and early 3‑D tech­nologies,” Heckel said. “I have a vintage Russian-made stereo­scopic camera that I would like to use next summer to make street por­traits.”