Lewis J. Hemmis, 1919-2009, was born in Morrisdale, Pennsylvania and died in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The man pursued photography both as a career and avocationally for much of his life. He was a colleague and friend of mine.
Lee, as he was most often called, grew up in central Pennslvania where he excelled in high school. Without any formal musical training, he taught himself to play a variety of instruments and after graduation, ventured to Pittsburgh to play in nightclubs and dance halls. With World War II on the horizon, Lee felt the patriotic need to enlist.
During classification by the U.S. Army, young Hemmis tested well and was offered air crew assignment on completion of Army Air Corps cadet training. A year later, now a navigator on C-47 transport aircraft, Hemmis felt less excited about his role than had he been assigned to a fighter or bomber squadron. While fighters and bombers were priority targets by the enemy, Lee soon discovered C-47's weren't that far behind. The transport squadrons hauled soldiers, supplies and munitions to Allied forward positions in France and Belgium. As these aircraft had no gunnery, they proved to be likely targets for the Germans. Their only defense was flying during the cover of night. Over the next three years, Hemmis luckily managed to have excaped several rounds that had pierced the plane's fuselage next to his navigator's station.
When WWII ended, Lee married his longtime sweetheart Mary Dunham; they settle in Erie where Lee found technical employment at Lord Corporation using his military skills. At Lord, he assisted engineers by fabricating prototypes and conducting tests on vibration isolators and shock attenuation products for the aerospace industry. He was a patent holder on at least one sound absorption product he jointly created at the company.
Among his technical duties was still photography of engineering experiments, product development and test procedures. Hemmis accomplished this with a 4X5 inch monorail camera and black & white film. Around 1970, creative differences between Hemmis and his manager resulted in Lee leaving Lord Corp. At this point, he essentially retired and began photographing landscapes and streams to ideally record the tranquility these scenes provided. He became fully engrossed in this activity and constructed a wet chemistry darkroom that enabled him to create up to 20 X 24" prints from his negatives.
This work resulted in several commercial assignments, but the photography Hemmis enjoyed most involved hauling his equipment down to a creek-bed and photographing rapids at the head of a deep pool of dark water. While personally accompanying Lee on some of these adventures, I often asked why he insisted using a 4X5" tripod mounted field camera when 35mm and 6cm X 6cm cameras were back in his car. He never provided a serious answer, but I thik this heavy, awkward gear simply added to the complexity of his goal, and Lee somehow thrived on complexity.
Later, after Mary died, Lee bought a large motohome, he travel the United States alone making photographs of fields and coastlines, brooks and canyons. He retired his 4X5 camera and in its place began using an 8X10" photographers. Hemmis chose very good mentors and followed in their paths for the last 39 years of his life. He died in Arkansas in 2009.Note written by Bob Hagle, December 2014