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.”