Faced with a choice between retirement or adaptation, Michigan photographer Gregg Barckholtz was 59 when he chose to reinvent himself.
Today, his work can be seen around the country and in the Flathead Valley.
An interest in photography took over Barckholtz’s life at a young age and, over time, evolved into a passion he would have to fight for as he aged and equipment changed.
Starting at age 15, his parents got tired of paying the development fees for the poor quality photos his cheap cameras produced. They made the leap and bought him his first SLR camera, equipment comparable to a $1,000 investment today.
His professional career launched in the late 1970s when an honorable mention in a photo contest brought exposure that led to his first opportunity to shoot a wedding. The couple handed him some film and $35, but the gig proved to be worth much more as people began requesting his services.
From there he began his own portraiture business. In 1982, he joined the Professional Photographers of Michigan organization and placed ninth in their annual Photographer of the Year competition.
The next year he took first.
Over the next 15 years, Barckholtz went on take first place in the statewide competition six times.
Though business began booming, Barckholtz said he began to outgrow his standard shots. He craved fresh, artistic shots and started dabbling in “kind of funky portraits” in the late 90s.
Following some of his regular shoots, he began asking his models if they would pose for some of his personal sessions. Several sessions of color powder and a few flowers later, he had an obsession that would take his work to the next level.
What began as a side project was soon displayed in galleries and art exhibits across the country.
The colorful pieces depicted models covered in clay, twigs, moss and flowers, works inspired by Barckholtz love of nature and his mother, a florist.
Then the digital age erupted in the 2000s and the lifelong film photographer felt his run was over.
“Digital came along and I occupied my entire being to keep up with knew techniques,” Barckholtz said.
At 59 years old, Barckholtz said he was an “emotional mess,” fearing the worst for the career he’d worked so hard to build.
“I was so worried that I was over the hill and maybe my best days were done,” he said.
Barckholtz said he started seeing photographers he’d admired grow stagnant in their work. Many, he said, put their cameras on the shelf.
Faced with the choice of retiring his lens or adapting to the world of digital, Barckholtz couldn’t square with the thought of handing his field over to the young guys. He went back to the beginning, and, drawing from the work he started in the 90s, began to reinvent himself as an artist.
He relearned everything using digital equipment and soon fell in love with photography again. He applied paints and different elements, designed and built his sets and styled his models himself, taking pride in the personal touch.
After six weeks, he approached a gallery that had shown his work in the past, asking if they might have room to give him a show.
“It’s not only good for my soul, but it was good for my business,” he said.
By 2016 he was running both a successful portrait studio with his wife and daughter and had his artistic pieces in galleries around the country once again.
To date, Barckholtz estimated that he has photographed 10,000-12,000 photo sessions and has had work shown at several dozen shows, one of which he has brought to the Flathead Valley Community College where his son teaches creative writing.
The exhibit entitled “Spellbound” features a series of portraits that show of Barckholtz more whimsical, fantastical side.
“I wanted to find my spot where I could still feel young,” he said. “I needed to make sure I wasn’t getting old.”
“At age 61 you can still go out and make some noise, make some happy noise in this world,” he added. “Spellbound” is on display at the college through Nov. 3. Guests will have the opportunity to meet Barckholtz at a reception Oct. 25.
To view some of Barckholtz work, visit www.portraitsbygregg.com.
For more information on the “Spellbound” exhibit, visit https://www.fvcc.edu.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.