Steve Traudt: He not only loves taking pictures, he loves teaching photography
Portrait 2011 — Volume 1: Leaving a legacy
Photographer and former pharmacist Steve Traudt has been fascinated with science ever since he discovered darkroom equipment as a 10-year-old boy.
“One of my grandparents had died and my dad and his brothers were cleaning out the attic in the house,” said Traudt, 62. “I found this box with a metal tray and a light bulb. I took it downstairs to my dad and asked him what it was. He said that was his when he was a kid.
“He had a darkroom in the Depression. I was always a science nerd. I went home, ordered some things and set up a darkroom at home.”
Traudt spent six to seven hours every weekend in a little 6-by-8 porch converted to a darkroom, going through his dad’s old negatives and learning how to make prints. It wasn’t until a year or so later he took his first photograph.
“I really came in it backwards,” he said. “It was magic to watch the print come up in the developer. That fascinated me.”
By learning darkroom skills first, Traudt developed a keen eye for a quality photograph.
“I learned how to do double exposures and darkroom tricks,” he said. “It was almost a journalistic style of photography. You really understand to get a quality print, you need the best the quality of photo as you can. You can’t take a crappy photo and save it in the darkroom.”
He started taking his own pictures with his dad’s box camera until he was in high school and became the yearbook photographer. There, he used the school’s camera.
The self-proclaimed science nerd became popular.
“I had no girlfriends. I just had my science, but then when I was the yearbook photographer it was better. It was ‘Take my picture! Take my picture!’ ”
He even had his own keys to the school and access to the school’s darkroom.
“I talked to the principal and asked if I could bring my stuff up here,” Traudt said. “He said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
Two weeks after Traudt graduated from college, he finally bought his own single-lens reflex camera, in 1972.
He joined a camera club in Lincoln, Neb., and quickly became heavily involved.
“I was young, fresh meat,” Traudt said. Within a year he was vice president.
“I had to introduce speakers at each meeting and was terrified. Gradually, I started looking down at the people and fed off that. Before too long I would be invited to speak. It grew from there.”
He taught a continuing education class at a community college while providing photos to art galleries and working full time at a pharmacy.
“I could sort of dovetail a teaching class in with the pharmacy schedule,” Traudt said.
He loved shooting landscape pictures and heard wonderful things about Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Ready for a change of scenery, he started looking into a job transfer.
Curious about Durango, he took a trip and passed through Grand Junction.
“I went up into the monument at sunrise and realized, ‘Whoa! This is a cool place. I need to think about living here in Grand Junction.’ ”
He set up several interviews on the Western Slope, took a job with City Market and moved to Grand Junction in 1987.
“I haven’t been here a year, when I get this call from Mesa College,” Traudt said. “The guy that was teaching their continuing education photo classes was moving away and heard my name. They called me and I taught those classes for 16 to 17 years.”
He worked as a pharmacist at City Market during the day and taught photography classes at night and on weekends. He took a trip to Ouray and taught workshops there.
“We were doing E6 slide film-shoot slides in the morning, develop them in the afternoon and look at them at night,” Traudt said. “I had people coming from all over the U.S. coming to these workshops.”
Traudt started using a digital camera in 2002.
“That was not an easy thing to do,” Traudt said. “I was shooting hundreds of rolls of slide film all my life. I could not imagine not holding slide film in my hand. I was real nervous about switching to digital. The next year, I shot three rolls of film. I think it reinvigorated me.
“With digital it’s so much easier. You get the feedback right away.”
Traudt retired from his pharmacy practice a few months ago and is teaching classes and taking photographs full time.
“I really like exploring everything,” he said. “People say, ‘What kind of pictures do you take?’ I won’t let myself be trapped into one thing. It’s too much fun to try things.
“For years, I took my Mesa beginning photo class to Van Gundy’s junkyard for a field trip. A junkyard, think about it, is a gazillion weird things. It’s chaos. If you can pull composition out of chaos, what can you do when you go to Ouray? You learn to see shape and form.”
Several people have taken classes from him, including emergency room physician Wendy Filener.
“You seldom meet people as talented as he is and a really good teacher,” Filener said. “He’s good. He really loves what he does.
“You can go somewhere with him and he’ll come back with something you’ve never seen or thought of.”
Dick Colby was in a photo workshop with Traudt several years ago and suggested he needed an assistant. A couple months later Colby became his assistant. He helps with Traudt’s classes to this day.
“He’s very passionate about teaching and helping people advance their skills,” Colby said. “He says there’s no bad photograph. Some work better than others. He refuses to call any photograph bad. He’ll make good suggestions.”
Darlyne Merkel said Traudt was excellent at conveying in his classes how to get the photograph your eyes see.
“There are some outstanding photographers, which he is, but not every good photographer is a good instructor,” Merkel said. “He is an excellent instructor.”
Traudt is able to take photographs despite having his fingers amputated at the knuckles.
He was born with amniotic band syndrome. It’s a birth defect that occurs when the fetus becomes entangled in fibrous, string-like amniotic bands in the mother’s womb, restricting blood flow and, in some cases, amputating limbs.
His biggest problem was typing, but he was able to overcome that and can type up to 60 words per minute with no mistakes.
He has even learned to have fun with it, telling people he’s taken so many photos, his fingers have worn down.