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The master of light

Professional photographers know that one thing matters more than anything else when creating captivating images: Light.

A photo is nothing more than a capture of reflected light, and the more intimate one is with light’s myriad qualities, the more one’s photos reflect the qualities of fine art. Light is the paint of a master photographer who splashes it here, dabs it there, shades and shapes it to their will.

Les Broadstreet was a master of light.

Those who called on him when he had his Marion studio in the 1940s and 50s can readily attest to that. The Broadstreet photos I have of my mother posing in her wedding dress are nothing short of true works of art. It’s likely hundreds near and far can say the same about photos he took that are bona fide family heirlooms.

Broadstreet moved on to make his mark in Wichita, where he was widely recognized as one of the best in the business, with expertise in a variety of photographic genres. In short, he could do it all.

He did so at a time when manipulating light in the darkroom was as important as capturing it on film. If temperatures or agitation of developing fluids were off just slightly, if the timing wasn’t right, an entire shoot of captured light could be ruined before a single print was made. “Dodge” and “burn” weren’t commands in a computer menu back then; they were the actions Broadstreet made with hands and tools to let less or more light pass from negatives to create the desired effects in final prints.

We chatted about photography a few years ago, both of us lamenting about much of what passes for “professional” photography these days. With the advent of digital cameras and cell phones, more people than ever are taking pictures, and our collective standards as to what constitutes excellent photography have dropped. If someone’s pictures taken with their consumer-grade digital SLR camera are a little bit better than their friends and family, they’re told they’re a great photographer.

Here’s a hint that applies to more than photography: Just because people like it doesn’t mean it’s good. It may well mean that those people don’t know what good is.

A master of light can take a makeshift shoebox pinhole camera and create a masterpiece. A $2,000 camera in the hands of a hack produces junk. The photographer, not the camera, is the determining factor in good photography.

Broadstreet wasn’t just good; he was a true professional master, an artist with an eye for light and composition that led to lasting magic, the likes of which are rare.

Les and his beloved Berniece returned to Marion in 2005. She died last year, and on Saturday, Les followed her into the Light. What a perfect resolution for the master.

— david colburn

Last modified Oct. 26, 2016

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