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Greenville & Hockessin Life

Behind the lens

Jul 29, 2021 12:52PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

The Delaware Photographic Society was organized as the Delaware Camera Club in 1931, making it one of America’s oldest camera clubs.

“Our mission at DPS is to encourage and develop interest in photography, in all its phases, from a pastime, to a fine art,” it says on “We provide regular meetings at which members, and the public, may meet leaders in the photographic field. … We exchange ideas, provide instruction for one another and exhibit our work.”

Each year it engages photographers and offers their work for the local community to enjoy through the Wilmington International Exhibition of Photography, monthly club competitions, local exhibitions, instruction, field trips, lectures and other programs. Sometimes, the benefits are informal: chances to “discuss photos, technique or gear with like-minded individuals of all experience levels.”

The monthly competitions often think outside the box camera. Themes in 2020-21 season included “our life in the Time of COVID,” “different colors that enhance theme” and “interesting selfie of photographer’s big toe (homage to the late Bill Talarowski).”

The society meets September through May, generally at 7:30 p.m. Mondays, virtually or at Cokesbury Village in Hockessin. Society membership is $55.

Here are snapshots of some local residents who are society members.

Thomas Mammen: Inside the operating room and around the world

Thomas Mammen fondly recalls the thrill of first seeing images in the darkroom, and he’s also fond of his iPhone X. “It’s good enough for most spontaneous photos, with a robust lens and editing software.” And “apps make it absolutely fantastic.”

His favorites include Adobe Lightroom CC (“great camera app that is able to capture in the RAW format using the native phone camera and also has a great image editing component”), ProCamera (“great camera which exploits and expands the capabilities of the native phone cameras for still and video functions”), Snapseed (gGreat editing software with a simple interface for beginners as well as sophisticated workflow for experts”) and TouchRetouch (“great app to remove unwanted power lines, clone small defects, etc.”). He also recommends Rad A. Drew, a photographer who blogs on and vlogs on YouTube.

Mammen also owns several cameras: a Nikon D7100, a Canon G11 and a mirrorless Nikon Z6.

The Greenville resident was born in Malaysia, where his father, a native of India, was a field supervisor for a rubber plantation. “The country was dealing with an insurgency there, and school beyond the elementary school was not available locally. So I was shipped to India at age of 7½ to a boarding school. I joke that I was raised by strangers.”

At Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, he and his classmates turned part of their dorm basement into a darkroom, started a photography club and “created their own liberal arts education.”

He moved to United States in 1974 and to Delaware in 1975. In 2005, he joined the teaching faculty of ChristianaCare. For a decade or so, he captured on film the residents at Wilmington Hospital near the end of their training in and gave them keepsake prints. “I thought of them as my own children,” he told The News Journal. “I’m their work dad.” He retired in 2016.

Priya and Pradeep, the two children of Thomas and Mariam Mammen, both enjoy careers in medicine and pharmaceuticals and interests in photography.

Mammen cited multiple benefits of being a society member. “Just belonging mean we egg each other on,” he said, praising the monthly contests for allowing photographers to explore – and compare the results with their fellow competitors.

He and his wife have enjoyed traveling (and photographing while abroad), but the pandemic and the need to care for Mariam’s mother have put the faraway ventures on hold.

Among the ways he’s satisfying himself now are photographing the eagles at Conowingo Dam, painting and woodcarving.

Susan Peter: Adventures into the wild

“Are we born to wander?” Susan Peter chose as the title of a society webinar. Yes, she believes.

“As a wildlife photographer, I am always chasing the light and hoping to do justice to my subjects.”

She’s also chasing chance. In a recent society webinar, she showcased stories from the field, such as coping with lost luggage on a flight to Africa. She borrowed sneakers and because of her bad knee, she eventually decided to pay men to carry her up and down the hill on a chair to photograph the rare mountain gorillas.

The Hockessin resident said favorite places to photograph include the Maasai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania. “My interest in wildlife photography is motivated by love of the wild and conservation,” she said, adding that she enjoys wildlife photography for the “solitude, peace and inspiration.” Her photos also document natural history for future generations.

“I prefer solitude and detest bear jams (by that, I mean fighting to get the shot at a popular scene,” she said, so when a guide got a text alert about a newborn zebra with dotted stripes, she and her husband, John, jumped at the chance to among the first to photograph the unusual-looking animal.

“Wildlife photography is good photography. You need an interesting subject, interesting composition and good light. And that’s not easy. Wild animals are going to do what they do. We can’t ask them to do something cute, look this way or move into better light. Patience is a necessity.”

Another necessity: researching their habitat needs, food supply and the times they are most active. Equipment is important, too: “an accurate, fast autofocus system and a high rate of frames per second (at least eight).”

“My journey to photograph the wildlife I love has taken me on adventures around the world and on adventures as close as my own backyard. Through my photographs, I aspire to do justice to my subjects, including their beauty, gentleness, ruthlessness, quirky behavior, social interaction, athleticism, humor and their unending struggle to simply survive.”

And often they don’t. In one story, she saw cheetahs chase and kill a female Thomson’s gazelle. She later saw them eating the gazelle – and was stunned to also capture a newborn gazelle, who had appeared early from its mother’s womb, nuzzling the cheetahs. A lion later ended the life of the newborn, she was told.

Patrick Litle: Rekindled with a 60th birthday present to himself

Patrick Litle recalls getting hooked on photography while he was in the Navy and using a camera that he borrowed from his father. He bought his own camera after he left the service in 1972, and he honed his craft by taking a college course, shadowing a wedding photographer in an apprenticeship known as a “second shot” and handling by himself photos for a dozen weddings.

He put it all aside for grad school and sold his equipment. On his 60th birthday, he gave himself a camera. And when he retired in 2015, he got more involved in photography and joined the society.

“I don’t want to limit myself to any subject,” he said, acknowledging that he’s best known for photos of flowers and birds. Prime spots for those subjects: His own Hockessin yard; Longwood Gardens and Winterthur, where he has memberships; and Valley Garden, Carousel and Hibernia parks.

Litle praised the society for its camaraderie, training and competitions, including the Wilmington International Exhibition of Photography, which he’s chairing for the second year. “The contests are eye-openers. You see there is so much more that could be done with artistic prints and digital images.” The society classifies members in three categories for competitions – B, A and Salon – with members working up (and sometimes asking to move down).

He said he has a stack of 300 prints at home, but none of his photos are on the walls of the home he shares with his wife, Tricia. Their minimalist style allows for just one Ansel Adams print and another print by a friend.

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