Roger Cannon, who has operated his Conyers photography business for 40 years, is passing the reins to son Charlie Cannon. (Special Photo)
CONYERS— Roger Cannon, dressed in overalls and a University of Georgia ball cap, carefully makes his way through his redecorated photography studio. Soft blues, beiges and gray cover the walls. Rooms are accented with red-hued furniture and mirrors. Oversized photographic portraits of teens, babies, families and newlyweds hang in the lobby. An electrician works in the ceiling to install new track lighting.
There’s been a beehive of activity at the 27-year-old Roger Cannon Photography studio, but Cannon won’t be spending much time there to enjoy the changes. The 63-year-old, who’s been a fixture in the community, known for his photography skills, is retiring. He’s leaving his business to the next generation — his son Charlie, a 31-year-old, married to wife Melissa, who has a degree in interior design, and has refreshed the studio space.
Cannon said that his family’s health history is poor (both parents died at 67) and he wants to take advantage of the time he has left. Ten years ago doctors diagnosed him with coronial melanoma cancer his right eye, which he beat, despite that type of cancer only having a 20 percent survival rate. Within the last year a new cancer has surfaced in his head and back.
Cannon said he’s looking forward to taking his annual trip to Alaska this September (he’s been going for 30 years) and he wants to publish a book of his work. He also would like to take more mission trips to Mexico through his church, Bethel Christian, and has destinations including Egypt and Australia on his bucket list.
“I don’t think it’s totally sunk in yet,” said Cannon of his retirement. “When you have a passion to do something all your life, and all of a sudden you’re not in charge any more, it will take a while to sink in.”
Cannon took his first photo as a 17-year-old working for the Rockdale Citizen newspaper after school. Then staff photographer Harvey Cowan, who taught Cannon how to process film, had off on Wednesdays and the paper needed a fill in.
“They put a camera in my hand and told me I was the photographer. My first assignment was the PTA at Pine Street Elementary School,” he said. “I loved it from the first time I took a picture. I had a passion for it. The excitement of just capturing the moment is hard to put into words.”
He earned a degree in offset printing and worked for a company in Athens and then returned to work at the Citizen in production, but in 1974, he fulfilled a request by his two sisters and sister-in-law to shoot their weddings. That assignment launched his photography business.
“I told them ‘I’m not a professional but as long as you don’t get mad at me if they don’t turn out, I’ll do it,’” he said. “They turned out really good.”
Cannon printed some business cards and within a few years began taking photos of between 40 to 50 weddings a year. In 1982, he started taking an annual 40-hour photography classes and studied with nationally known photographers through those classes for 21 years. He also joined the Professional Photographers of America and earned a craftsman degree from the organization by taking classes and entering competitions.
He and his wife Kathy worked a series of jobs to support their family and maintained the photography business on the side. In 1987, they purchased the warehouse building at 2545 Ga. Highway 20 and made taking photos their full-time job. Today, the building features a changing room, studio settings, prop rooms, and a lounge to peruse photos.
Roger coordinated the photography end of the business and Kathy (with whom he recently celebrated his 39th anniversary) took care of the finances.
“You complement each other,” said Cannon. “A husband and wife team can be more successful.”
Cannon said when he and his wife started building their family (in addition to Charlie, the couple are parents to Katie, 29, and Michael, 26), he decided to include children’s portraits in his photography services.
In the 1980s, he also incorporated high school senior portraits into his offerings, and made a good living off them until it became unprofitable, at least with the public school system. Most recently, he’s put his efforts into school photos at private schools in the area.
He said large photography companies offered him jobs but he never wanted to give up his independence or creativity.
“It didn’t want to be a cookie cutter photographer. I wanted to be able to do what I wanted to do with my own photography business. I liked owning my own business and taking the time to do my best,” said Cannon.
When digital cameras came on the scene in the early 2000s he resisted for a while because of the cost — $25,000 for a camera. By 2004, the price had dropped somewhat and he started to invest in the technology.
“That was a leap for everybody,” said Cannon of digital photography.
Cannon said digital has its pros and cons.
On the up side, the speed of processing is faster and people can see the proofs immediately. He also saves lots of money by not using film.
The negative is that people aren’t investing in prints, but rather just keeping the photos on CD. They put the photos on the web but don’t take the time to make prints and hang them around their home, or put the prints into an album.
“I just think that is so sad and I’m trying to educate people to pick a print and make a print,” he said.
Over the last decade, the business has slowed down and Charlie, who has worked alongside his father since 2007, intends to build it back up again, concentrating on portraits and weddings.
Cannon said the technical part of photography, such as lighting and composition, is pivotal in a successful photo but that a photographer has to learn how to get people, especially children, to relax and open up during a photo session.
“People skills are probably the biggest thing in this business. Anyone can take a picture, but it’s knowing how to create that emotional moment that will last a lifetime,” said Cannon.