Ruth Namuro and John Garman, the life in autochrome

In the humblest of opinions, this is one of the most stunning photos we have. The colors, details, simplicity, and peace are incredible. What do we know about the subject, Ruth Namuro? Not much, which is a shame because there is a undoubtedly a back-story to the image we see here. Instead, we’ll focus on John Garman, the photographer.

Here’s the condensed version of what you’ll find on the John Garman biography page, which accompanies a great online exhibit of some of his other photographs.

John Garman was born in Urbana, Illinois, in 1896, though his family moved to Portland when he was two. After graduating from Benson Polytechnic High School in 1916, Garman enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College (OAC). According to an oral history interview with Garman, he and a friend made a bicycle trip from Portland to Corvallis in 1917, where they enrolled at OAC. The funny part of the story is that they had intended to travel to Eugene to enroll at the University of Oregon, but the two decided that they had traveled far enough for that trip. Though for those who’ve ridden the rest of the way, the trip down Hwy 99 from Corvallis to Eugene can be quite beautiful …

He began his studies in Electrical Engineering, specializing in telephony, though he also an accomplished musician (the b flat clarinet being his instrument of choice. However, as life often does, Garman took a detour after his first year at OAC: he entered the Army and was sent to service in WWI. While enlisted, he served as an instructor, training recruits in basic marching and drill. Really, it was lucky for all of us who enjoy his photography that he enlisted, because it was in the Army that Garman picked up his camera. Although he had been given a camera as a child, he didn’t take a serious interest in photography until an Army friend reintroduced him to it while they were in camp.

After WWI, he returned to OAC and began taking elective courses in photography from R.W. Uphoff, was involved in some of the early work on synchronous flash devices, and some early work in commercial applications of color photography. He was also a member of the OAC band and orchestra, manager of the band his junior and senior years, and a member of Kappa Kappa Psi (the Music honors society). In the meantime, Garman continued his studies in electrical engineering, founding the OAC chapter of Eta Kappa Nu, the Electrical Engineering honors society, and serving as the first president of OAC’s chapter. He graduated with a B.S. in Physics, with honors, in 1922.

After graduation, Garman spent the summer working for the Western Electric Co. in their telephony division. He returned to OAC as a part-time instructor in Engineering. R. W. Uphoff left OAC that year to pursue his own photography, and  Garman was hired in September 1923 to replace him as instructor of Photography in the Physics Department — this was a position he held until his retirement in 1966. Garman concentrated on the practical aspects of photography, believing the purpose of photography was “to make accurate and usable records of how things worked, and how they were built, and what they were for, and how they were adapted to their use …”

Without this practical-minded approach to photography, OSU might never have created its Photographic Services. Because of his photography talents, Garman had become well-known and sought after by the OAC faculty. It was Garman, working with Ed Yunker, who created the Photo Services in 1924 when they realized that their work taking pictures for other departments was interfering with their ability to do the work for which the college had actually hired them.

As an instructor, John Garman didn’t simply teach students how to point a camera at something and push a button; he insisted that his students understand the optics of a camera, the geometry of using lenses and of composition, and the chemistry of films and printing processes. He said this of of photography: “Processes are being continually changed and improved and if you don’t have a basic understanding of them the first change licks you. So, we found it advisable to teach people basic understandings of photography. Not, just training.”

He retired in 1966, after 45 years of teaching photography; however, in 1969, when the decision was made to move the instruction of photography to the Art Department, Garman was the natural choice to help the new caretakers of photography set up classes and labs — so he returned…

It wasn’t all electrical engineering and pictures: in 1925, Garman married Florence Goff, and they had three children. Garman passed away in November of 1989.

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