Son of a Son of a Photographer?

James Donald Fillmer Self Portrait
Father’s Day is an interesting day in the U.S. calendar (see my rant on Father’s Day called Why I Don’t Like Father’s Day // Top 10 if you are so inclined). To me, as I am sure with others, it is a day of reflection as well as one to honor the father.

We are told to honor thy father and mother, so today, I would like to honor my dad and my granddad as well. Not because the calendar says I should, but because I want to take a small moment in time for two people that have meant a lot to my life.

Time With Dad is Time Well Spent

I spent yesterday with my dad helping to wash the outside of their house and other general tasks we normally do on the weekend. I am lucky, I live within walking distance of my dad and at this point in my life I actually do get to spend quite a bit of time with my dad on a weekly basis.

So, happy Father’s Day dad, I hope you enjoyed spending the day “working” together yesterday, I’ll be over to watch Tiger Woods try to win the U.S. Open in just a little bit. It is a day of reflection too, and that is simply because the calendar says its Father’s Day. I think about my dad, my son, his son, but also my granddad whom I know only through conversations with my dad. He died when I was to young to remember him, but I have a fondness for him through my own dad.

Through the time I have spent with my own dad, I have learned everything my dad knew about his dad. As time goes by though, we are able to go deeper into what his life was like and I am always learning something new about who Don Fillmer was. I think he is much of what makes my dad who he is today, and some of who I am today as well.

Time To Relax and Take a Self Portrait

James Donald (Don) Fillmer worked at ACIPCO (American Cast Iron Pipe Company) most of his adult life (I believe around 30 years but that is an estimate), and died in the mid-1970’s while going back to work in Birmingham. As I mentioned above, I have since learned over the years about his work ethics, his faith, his love of family, and yes, his love for photography.

I like to think in some small way that the photography skills I have were in some way passed down from my dad’s dad to me. My uncle, Les Fillmer, was also a photographer of sorts, but better known as a musician and conductor with the Alabama School of Fine Arts. The only image I have that Don took that was not work related (or a family snap shot) is a self-portrait he took in 1938.

The Mysterious Dark Room in the Basement

I started taking college level photography courses long before I ever found out that my granddad was even remotely interested in photography. Don’s wife, my grandmother, Martha Fillmer, lived in the same house for many many years and I can clearly remember the dark room Don had built in the basement.

My dad, aunt, uncle, mother all probably know more about it than I do or did. I was probably somewhere between the ages of 7 and 12, but the dark room in their basement was something mysterious to me, only used by my uncle, and rarely when I was around. Full of very large equipment, weird lighting, chemicals, and paper, but it was not something I really ever saw being used. Although there are the usual family snap shots of Don, this self portrait is one of my favorite photos I have seen that he has taken.

He setup the shot, probably developed the negatives in his dark room, and used a large format camera to do it. The Large Format camera is almost a lost art form today with cheap digital SLR’s, but was and is still used by some great photographers like Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, and Paul Strand.

A Day in the Life of Don Fillmer

The shot shows him in what I think of as a normal day in his house. Sitting in a favorite chair, reading the newspaper. The fixtures and items around him reflect a more simple time, no electronics, no cell phone, just a hard working man at the end of the day relaxing with his paper, still in his suit and work shoes.

The detail in this self-portrait is amazing to me. I have tried a few self portraits and they are not easy to do, well. Anyone can setup a timer and put their face in front of the camera, but a self portrait should tell a story of the person behind the camera who is rarely seen in front of the camera. Although I was not around when this was taken, don’t know any of the circumstances involved, or what kind of a day or week he was having, it tells a story to me. I sometimes wonder if he thought this self portrait taken in 1938 would have meaning to his grandson, to be born 32 years later.

So happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, especially to my dad, and his. I hope you enjoy one of my favorite self portraits, A Day in the Life of Don Fillmer.

7 responses to “Son of a Son of a Photographer?”

  1. […] I have some family background in photography (see Son of a Son of a Photographer?).  My grandfather was a photographer of sorts back in the 70’s, and so was his son, my uncle […]


  2. […] family has had people who fought in the Civil War, WWI, both of my grandfathers served in WWI (see Son of a Son of a Photographer), one flew a B-24 Bomber in WWII in Europe, my dad served in the Air Force, and my cousin decided […]


  3. […] of these photos are from the 1950′s that (I assume) my grandfather, Don Fillmer, took. He was the photographer of the family but the equipment he used back then was nothing compared to the equipment we use today, and many of […]


  4. […] self portraits since it tells so much about the photographer and the person. One of my favorite is this one my grandfather did, which I posted a few years […]


  5. […] self portraits since it tells so much about the photographer and the person. One of my favorite is this one my grandfather did, which I posted a few years […]


  6. […] My grandad was a photographer as well, and he of course also did all of his work in film, but it wasn’t the 35mm film I grew up shooting, it was a medium format, 4×5 film, and still popular 220 film roll that he used. The one 4×5 negative I still have of his is this self-portrait, taken with the very camera showcased in this post. It was taken back in the 1970’s (when you kept cameras for more than a year or two), back in a time when these were called “self-portraits” not selfies. […]


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