HAWARDEN—Photography has been more than just a business for Rodney Matz since he first moved to Hawarden in 1964; it is also an art and a hobby.
But after 58 years of operating Rodney’s Photography in downtown Hawarden, Rodney, 79, sold the studio at 816 Central Ave. so you can slow down.
He hasn’t retired, he said, as he’s still willing to take on small gigs such as senior pictures.
Rodney, who grew up in Dodgeville, WI, began photographing young, starting in third or fourth grade with a promotional camera he got when he sent in 50 ice cream tub lids and 50 cents. When he started in professional photography, it was with a Crown Graphic 4×5, which used sheet film rather than roll film.
It was thanks to a man from a landmark company in Dodgeville that Rodney first learned the techniques of professional photography.
“He did a lot of photography with his monuments. He taught me how to operate the camera, process black and white film and print it,” Rodney said.
He started his photography studio in Dodgeville, but it wasn’t full time yet.
“We had installed a background in our living room. We only did this for about six months before we moved here,” Rodney said.
Rodney moved to Hawarden with his wife, Jan, and their 6-month-old daughter after hearing through a newsletter from the American Lutheran Church that there was a need for a photographer in that town.
When they moved to Hawarden, they settled in another location at 910 Central Ave. The studio was run in the front of the building, while the family lived in the back half.
They owned this space for the next 26 years.
Around 1995, the studio moved to 816 Central Ave. This building was sold in August.
When it came to learning how to pose people, Rodney credited a Sioux Center photographer, Hank Kraayenbrink, for recommending he go to Des Moines photography conventions to learn more about the craft.
“I had thought it was just for the big shots,” Rodney said, but he went for it. “That’s where I really got involved. That’s where you learn stuff because they have speakers from across the country showing their way, how they pose people and how they do business and how they do things, the equipment they use and so on. So we went to almost every convention that was happening at that time. We did that until five years ago.
These lessons from conventions have helped him over the years, as his primary work focused on family portraits and weddings, as well as high school photos and baby photos.
Working with children has always been a favorite part of his job, with plenty of Smarties in his pocket to reward them for good behavior.
“He has always worked well with children,” Jan said.
She recalls a wedding they did photos for where the ring bearer wouldn’t walk down the aisle. Rodney showed the boy his Green Bay Packers wristwatch, and from then on, the boy would stick to Rodney’s word.
“Rodney went up to him and said, tell you what, you’re walking down the center aisle and I’m going to walk down the side aisle – which he would do anyway to get the whole bride’s picture. way – and I’ll meet you there,” Jan said.
The boy walked down the aisle, stunning his mother.
“He’s always had that gift with kids,” Jan said. “Throughout the reception, he was bringing his friends over and saying, show them your watch, show them your watch.”
Over the years, Rodney has accumulated many stories like this. Just as there’s an art to posing people, getting the right lighting, and getting the camera settings right, there’s an art to making people happy for photos.
“I remember a boy from Akron, a preacher. Mom came with him and he was wearing a black leather jacket. He was very unhappy to come in and I could tell it was going to be a fun session,” Rodney said.
The mother wanted her son to take off the leather jacket and put on his sports jacket for the pictures.
“I say, why don’t we do some pictures in your black leather jacket. Changed his whole attitude,” Rodney said. “We did three or four photos with this jacket. I didn’t care if these were ordered or not, but I made it because he wanted to and his mom said he couldn’t. He was great throughout the photo shoot. …Sometimes you have to cancel the parents a little bit.
Over the years, Jan, 78, has been an essential partner in the business. Laughing, she described herself as the gofer, but Rodney said she had a way of knowing what he needed without having to say it.
“We can have a wedding without talking to each other. She knows my next pose, what it was going to be, what group I was going to need next and she would have them all ready for me, down the line,” Rodney said. “It went so easily.”
At the beginning of their work, photos were offered in black and white. If the clients wanted color, the photos had to be hand painted, something Jan learned to do from Rodney’s mother, who was a colorist for a studio in Wisconsin.
“It was tough,” Jan said. “It looks like we did the painting in a very short time. I still have friends who say, “I have that picture you painted of my little boy.”
Technology, of course, has rapidly changed the photographic industry since the mid-1960s. The commoditization of color film was one such advance, with various sprays offered at the studio to slow color fading.
“We had a little spray booth set up in the studio and a spray gun, just like a body shop, and we sprayed all the photography,” Rodney said.
Although the shooting process itself hasn’t changed much with the switch to digital cameras, working with computers to edit photos was a challenge for Rodney.
“It made me climb the wall at times,” Rodney said, “but we got through it.”
But coming out of professional photography full-time has been a nice change, as he can take on whatever assignments he wants.
“It was a big occupation for us. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than what I did. We had a great time and we thank everyone for supporting us over the years. We had a lot of fun doing that,” Rodney said. “I have to thank God for everything he has done for us to make it happen. He was behind us and took us forward. I have to give thanks to the Lord because he is awesome.