Stilt wizard Larry Dobson seemingly walks on water. (Photo by David Welton)

Stilt wizard Larry Dobson seemingly walks on water. (Photo by David Welton)

The camera is Whidbey Island man’s second calling

After retiring from a career in medicine, David Welton of Langley focuses on his first love: photography

WHO: I am David Welton. Sixty-five years ago, my grandmother gave me a Kodak Starflash camera for my 8th birthday. Within a few months, I saved my allowance, cash gifts, coins discovered under the cushions and soda bottle returns, and soon purchased a darkroom outfit with a contact printer. I have been a photographer ever since.

I learned to read in order to decipher the captions in Look, Life and National Geographic magazines.

My family was not fond of my hobby. The chemicals smelled and were messy, the tape that held paper to black out the windows left marks, it was unfair to monopolize the bathroom. My father told me to use the enlarger in the back yard. I said, ‘Dad, it has to be a dark room.’”

Once I discovered the darkroom in the ROTC building at Occidental College in Los Angeles, my skills improved rapidly. I have had a darkroom in every home I have owned. Although I chose interventional cardiology as my ultimate career path, photography became my primary avocation. Printing sessions in my photo lab, unfortunately, were frequently interrupted by hospital emergencies, and so I grew discouraged and resorted to snapshots and even Polaroids to sustain my interest.

An outpatient position at the University of Washington Medicine Regional Heart Center Alderwood and subsequent retirement freed me to freelance for the South Whidbey Record and become staff photographer for Whidbey Life Magazine and This is Whidbey, thus moving on to my belated second calling. I am going on 73 years old.

WHAT: Subject matter has never been hard to find. I enjoy landscape, wildlife, flower, macro, abstract, architectural, travel and many other photographic genres, but my preferred style is photojournalism.

As a medical student, I examined the retina of W. Eugene Smith. Later, I realized I looked into the eye of one of the greatest photojournalists of all time! At the time he was just Mr. Smith to me, and so I missed the opportunity to tell him his photo essay in Life magazine, “The Country Doctor,” partially inspired me to go to medical school.

Visits to art museums and galleries also proved to be inspiring. I remember being entranced with Jerry Gay’s Pulitzer Prize winner “Lull in the Battle” at a tiny gallery in Harmony, California. (Gay now lives in Everett.) I gazed at it for minutes, then decided to take pictures like that.

My first experience with street photography was with Joel Meyerowitz at an Ansel Adams Gallery workshop in Yosemite. We walked around Yosemite Village and photographed tourists. I took those lessons to heart and accumulated a series of images at seaside locations in Southern California over the next few years. There is an intersection of doctoring and photographing people. You look for the good, and read body language and nonverbal communication.

WHEN: Digital photography helped me to manage creative time. Film photography and darkroom skills apply to photo-editing software. I have no formal art schooling beyond that required in high school, but my mother was an artist and so creativity runs in the family.

“Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards sharpened my composition. I have taught photography classes and have stressed the technical side of photography, much as an art instructor would emphasize how to wield the paint brush for different effects or how to mix and match pigments and paint to yield a range of colors and tones. I prefer to help budding photographers to discover their own special inner vision and perspective, rather than direct them to follow my point of view.

I use a Canon 7D Mark 1, with an 18-200 mm zoom for general photography and a 17-55 mm f2.8 zoom for photojournalism assignments. And I really like my 10-22 mm wide-angle zoom. Beginning photographers go for telephoto, but wide angle gets more information. You can crop extraneous material, but you cannot restore what is not there.

WHERE: I live in Langley on Whidbey Island, surrounded by creative and interesting people who participate in local celebrations. We have a great county fair. I document these events for various institutions and nonprofits, sharing my images freely. I have been told my photographs chronicle small-town life in a Norman Rockwell style.

I photograph Georgia Edwards, my wife of 49 years, also a retired physician, teaching canine scent work at South Whidbey Community Park. Nosework utilizes the same training as bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs, but with different baits.

Our son, Nathan, 44, is an outdoor adventure and destination wedding photographer in Colorado who has won national awards.

As for me, I won a first place award for sports photography in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association contest. I’ve also won Best of Show awards at the Whidbey Island Fair at least twice, and first and third place at the Edmonds Arts Festival, all in the photography divisions.

I’ve shown my work at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, Meany Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Washington Medical Center, as well as in group shows at the University of Oregon.

WHY: Why do I photograph? There is no deep analytic answer to this question. Yes, this is how I communicate, tell a story or preserve a memory, but in the end I just like to take pictures. It is really challenging to produce a unique image, yet it is incredibly gratifying to successfully show what others may have missed while focused on their smartphone, commute or the demands of life. I have been known to fall asleep at bedtime while holding an expressive print in my hand.

FAVORITE: My favorite image? No fair! I have been doing this all my life. That is like asking “Which of your kids do you prefer?” I do enjoy looking over my lifetime of work, and reviewing forgotten images. I scanned all of my black-and-white negatives in the computer, and discovered gold on those old proof sheets, such as “Mr. Squibb” picking up garbage early in the morning in front of his home in Cambria, near San Simeon in California. But there are so many.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the summer issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to for more information.

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