Now celebrating 36 years in business in the South Okanagan, with beginnings in Summerland in 1979. After 10 years moved his operation to Petticton at 385 Martin Street since 1989. The old house, built in 1914 for J.F. McCrae, the engineer on the S.S. Sicamous Paddlewheeler, later served as a Video Studio for Shaw Cable before becoming a photography studio. Customers are charmed by the old architecture, character and original woodwork.
I find people are very comfortable here, especially kids. It’s more of a homey atmosphere than clinical. Cornett has no idea how many photos he’s taken in his lifetime. It’s probably been close to a million, he guesses. He does, however, remember his first pictures. “I was 10-years-old and was sent away to summer camp”, he recalls. “My first camera was a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Junior. It took 16 images on 620 film. My parents gave me a roll of film and told me when they came to pick me up they’d switch it with me for a fresh roll. I took nature photos and pictures of all my friends. When they finally arrived I didn’t say ‘hello Mom and Dad’ but instead asked where my next roll of film was.” Amazingly, he still has some of the original prints that he shot that summer.
Now 65, he’s witnessed multiple changes in the industry first from black-and-white processing to full colour and most recently to total switch to digital photography. He purchased his first digital camera in 2001 and then made the permanent transition in 2003. “It really has revolutionized our industry,” he said. “The big thing is it allows for an instant replay after every picture you take”. Both transformations – the colour darkroom and switch to digital – were orchestrated by photographic technician John Park, who also repairs all of the equipment.
Early in his career he met another of his idols, Yousef Karsh, who was visiting the Okanagan on a book signing and lecturing at a Professional Photography Convention. Mr. Karsh quickly picked up ono his enthusiasm. Cornett would one day like to publish his own collection of photos.
With everybody and their dog now owning a cell phone and digital camera, it’s brought far more attention to photography than ever before, Cornett believes. His industry has also witnessed tremendous competition from the big box stores that offer portraits at a fraction of the cost. “With the 99 cent pricing, the box stores have definitely taken up a certain portion of the family market,” he said. “I believe they serve the purpose, keeping a record of your kids growing up. What professional photographers offer is tremendous quality, a more intimate setting and we’re willing to go out on location to those special places.” Being located in the Okanagan, he doesn’t need to travel far to catch a spectacular backdrop. One of the favourite places for wedding photos among his clients is the Linden Gardens. Depending on the summer he shoots between 15 and 20 weddings and family reunions and now photographing second-generation weddings of customers. “When I get told ‘you took the photos at my grandparent’s wedding’, I know it will be time to retire,” he jokes. He’s also photographed some famous individuals among them Premier Gordon Campbell, Christy Clark, and former Prime Minister Joe Clark, not to leave out Bobby Hull and Ivan McLelland. During municpal elections he’s often busy doing portraits for the candidates brochures and advertising.
Cornett has one employee, April Hughes, his trusted associate who he says is a whiz at photo restoration and a valuable cog in the operation, being there whenever needed for over 15 years. Every summer he hires students to assist him during the busy Wedding and Grad season. Currently he has an apprentice that is showing much promise and can shoot many events as an assistant or “Second shooter”. He has several secrets to staying in business for 30 years during tough economic times.
“We’ve had hard times before”, he said. “The key to surviving in business is determination, a love of what you’re doing and a willingness to change and adapt. If you truly love something, the stick with it.”