With tears in my eyes, I read the eulogy written for Van Neely by my colleague Leon Emo. He and Leon shared a love for the desert that frankly I don’t understand. I have seen some of Van’s desert photos and what is obviously wasteland becomes landscape when viewed by those who love it.
The very first writing assignment I got when I transferred from advertising to editorial at the Tribune was a memorial piece on the late Dale Griffin. For those who don’t know, Griffin owned Dale’s Studio & Camera and had been Van’s mentor beginning in high school and continuing until he opened his own studio. In the 1960s and 1970s Griffin set the standard for portraits in Madera. Many of us had our senior yearbook photos shot by Dale.
That day Van told me how much he learned from Griffin and that since he opened his business he had attempted to “pay it forward,” for aspiring photographers. He spoke in reverent tones as he described how Griffin not only taught him about lighting and photographic techniques but the lessons he learned about being a businessman and civic leader.
Van strived to be just as generous with his expertise. I can’t count the number of times he and I were shoulder to shoulder at high school graduations as he took portrait photos of each student moments after they received their diplomas...