MARQUETTE Gladstone resident Paul Gerard's interest in photography got started when he was a little boy and he began playing with his dad's camera. Back then, it was simply a hobby that his family had a shared interest in, but over the course of his life it evolved into something that gave him a release and reflected a big part of his personality.
"The only thing I remember about my dad's camera was that it had red places in the back where you could see the numbers on the film," he said. "My older brother also had a 35mm camera that I used, and when I was in high school, my dad taught me to develop film and print pictures."
Gerard, 67, worked in a variety of different positions over the years. In 1966, he entered the Air Force, where he worked as a ground radio repairman. When he completed his commitment there, he was hired as a photographer for the Northern News Bureau.
Paul Gerard looks for his next photo as he shoots a Rapid River girls softball game on May 1. Gerard, also known as 'Grandpa Camo,' has been taking pictures for most of his life and currently runs a website, grandpacamo.com, where all the photos he takes are free for personal use. (Journal photo by Justin Marietti)
He left there to work as a darkroom technician and photographer at the Delta Reporter until opening his own studio, Paul's Picture Place, from 1975 to 1979.
He was also employed by the Department of Defense from 1981 until his retirement in 2007.
Gerard's wife passed away from breast cancer in 2006, and over the course of the next year, he began shooting photos on a much more regular basis. At first, it began by taking pictures of some of the kids from his church at their sporting events and burning CDs for their personal use. Then, he began shooting the entire team, and the demand for his photos grew very rapidly.
"By January of 2009, I was doing about 25 CDs twice a week," he said.
It was then that he decided to make a website to post his work. Initially, he went with www.paulgerard.net, but his tech-savvy nephew advised him that he needs something that will be easier to remember and has a ring to it. Four hours later, www.grandpacamo.com was created, and Gerard's photos have only increased in popularity.
"Well, I am a grandpa, and I wore a non military camouflage hat when I was taking pictures," he said. "It just made sense."
Due to his professional experience, Gerard could have easily decided to charge customers for any reproduction of his photos. However, it wasn't in his nature to do that, and he made his photos available to download for free, so long as they are for personal use.
"I do this for the athletes, to show them that someone cares about them personally," he said. "My savior died for me, and I give my life for the athletes. What I give them is a free gift if they want to accept it."
Today, Gerard still resides in Gladstone, although he spends a great deal of his time on the road covering various events across the U.P., Wisc., and lower Michigan. He said his favorite events to shoot really depend on the setting.
"Outdoors, it is probably cross country, because it is an individual event," he said. "Indoors, it is competitive cheer, because they have to do it all together and I like the symmetry of it."
Justin Marietti can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 245.