By Sergio Medina
Feb. 1, 1980, was the day photographer Leonard Ziegler began his job at this college.
Since then, Ziegler’s objective has been to showcase campus life.
On Feb. 28, 39 years later, he will retire.
“I’ve always been a photographer, started when I was in high school,” he said.
A resident of the South Side, Ziegler attended Harlandale High School, graduating in 1973.
His photography interest began thanks to his brother, Lionel Ziegler, who photographed weddings. Leonard Ziegler helped him edit photos.
“I was the one in charge of doing special effects,” he said in an interview Feb. 18. “Back then, there were no computers. Everything was done in the camera; so I did double exposure images for him.”
An example of his work included photographing the ceremony inside the chapel and saving the photo for later. Ziegler would then go to the reception to photograph the couple, where he had them pose — heads together, looking down. By setting an attachment that would block the bottom of the camera lens, a double exposure could be accomplished.
“When we got it back, it was an image of them with their heads together, kind of looking down over their ceremony,” Ziegler said.
He enrolled at this college 1975-1978, hoping to obtain a degree in photography. Unfortunately, at the time, the college did not offer a photography degree.
“So I took advertising art,” Ziegler said. “Back then, it was called advertising art.
“It was so that you could get a job, working in a newspaper, or design firm or even an advertising agency,” he said.
After college, he got a job at John McGee Advertising Associates.
“I wanted a photography job and there weren’t any available at the time,” he said.
He said he wasn’t happy being a paste-up artist for the advertising agency.
“This is what they called them back then,” he said, laughing. “I was the guy who put together all the obituaries in the newspaper.
“Any newspaper in town,” he added. “I would put them together and submit them so they could run them in the newspaper.”
Ziegler’s friend, Tom Palmer, who worked at the library and audiovisual center at this college in the late 1970s, notified Ziegler about an open photographer position.
“So the money I was making at the agency, which wasn’t much but still, it was money enough for me to put together a portfolio,” Ziegler said. “I put together my portfolio, I interviewed, and I got it.”
Ziegler began his job by creating slides on copy stands for instructors to use in their classrooms.
“I used to process all the slides; I used to process black and white; I used to process all the color,” he said. “We had two labs of black and white and a color lab, and we would do all the processing there.”
Ziegler did not have a studio at the time, so he had to turn his office into one to meet the demand of portraits.
“At a school, that’s a lot of work,” he said. “That was not my strong point at first, but I adapted and did the best I could. That was a challenge for me, photographing people. I like to photograph landscapes and buildings, but it worked out; I grew into it.”
Now, a typical day for Ziegler involves lining up his assignments, which convey campus life — activities, events and people.
“Nothing is quite specifically written as to what I’m supposed to shoot but just to convey what’s going on around campus,” he said.
He checks for assignments to cover on a given day, besides those reserved ahead of time. Additionally, he photographs portraits for the school’s website.
The transition from film to digital in 1999-00 made his job considerably easier, he said.
“(When) the digital age started, I was going to quit because I was standing in the dark room for long periods of time; my feet were just killing me,” Ziegler said. “I couldn’t take it anymore, and they were asking for more and more images, quickly, and I couldn’t produce them fast enough because everything takes time in a wet, dark room. But when digital came around, I went, ‘Wow, this is very cool.’”
He said with film, the process to photograph an event becomes methodical, a specific amount of photos, subjects and composition agreed upon.
“Nowadays, if I go to graduation, I’ll easily shoot 1,000 pictures at a graduation,” Ziegler said.
“I’m really impressed with the equipment, the modern day equipment,” he added.
He said he works with as many as 10,000 photos a semester.
“I really enjoy my job, I like doing it; I like photography; I like the challenge that it’s never the same — everyday usage is different. That’s probably what’s kept me here for so long, but I have other things I want to do, after 39 years.”
For Ziegler, the evolution of the campus, additions to infrastructure, are among the most noticeable changes he has seen in his time here.
“I used to park right in front of Moody (Learning Center), and now all the parking is on the outside (edge of campus),” he said.
He reminisced on the people he has seen throughout his time here.
“I got to see all the different people, all the different presidents that have come through,” Ziegler said. “Dr. (Robert) Zeigler, one of the ones that stand out the most. He did a lot for me; he gave me encouragement, what he did mostly.”
He said students’ goals have not changed much.
“They all have the same career goals; they all have the same desires; they all have the same wants and needs,” he said.
He said the campus is better prepared to meet student concerns now than three decades ago.
“Before, you would come and it was all up to you,” he said. “You didn’t receive that much help. You had to know what you wanted, you had to know where to go, who to call.”
He said information is considerably more accessible now thanks to technological advances.
Now, Ziegler has his mind on the future.
“I like the outdoors, I like going fishing; I like all those things, but I just don’t have the time to do any of that when you’re working,” he said.
“I’ve reached an age where I want to do something else,” he added.
Living on a small plot of land on the Southwest Side, Ziegler said his focus will be turned to spending time with his grandchildren, travel, working outdoors, cars and his and his wife’s ministry.
“I like being outside; I like doing work outside,” he said. “We have chickens, and the land is always needing care.
“Because I grew up around junkyards, I know a lot about cars,” Ziegler said.
At his ministry, “Living Faith Closet,” Ziegler and his wife give away clothes, shoes and toys to those in need every first Saturday of the month.
The ministry is part of Living Faith Church, 7801 Marbach Road.
“We’re in the process of getting a building built for that, so we can store the clothes,” he said.
Spending time with his family will be one of his biggest priorities after retirement, Ziegler said.
“I’ve had a couple of scary health issues come up and it made me realize time is short, so I want to spend a lot of time with my family and my surroundings,” he said.
“What’s happened to me is that I’ve turned into, instead of a taker, I’ve turned into a giver now, and I want to give. Now that I’m able to give, I want to give my time, my resources, my abilities, my talents to other things that are going to be eternally important.”
He said an example of that is giving time to his children, a loving trait that will be passed down to his family’s future generations.
“And that encompasses everything I’m going to do: going to church, being with my family, with my photography — I plan to do photography for myself, instead of doing photography for someone else,” Ziegler said. “I’m looking forward to that.
“I used to say, ‘I’m just a photographer,’ you know?” he said. “But people, my employees, my superiors, my staff, peers — they’ve all treated me with such respect. That’s the kind of really good people that are here at SAC. They treated me with a lot of respect; I give them a lot of credit for that. A lot of criticism, they gave me constructive criticism, so I could become better, and all of that was really, really great. I’m just impressed by that.
“I’ll miss that part, but like I said, I got other things to do,” he said, laughing.