Debra Bates-Lamborn owns First City Photo in downtown Leavenworth. She also writes the weekly column, Leavenworth — Where history of the West began for the Leavenworth Times.

Debra Bates-Lamborn owns First City Photo in downtown Leavenworth. She also writes the weekly column, Leavenworth — Where history of the West began for the Leavenworth Times.

1. On Dec. 28, 1992, you opened First City Photo. What motivated you to start your own business and what have been the most rewarding aspects of operating a business in downtown Leavenworth?

I bought the building at 406 Shawnee because it was in such a state of disrepair that I feared it would suffer the same fate as much of our beautiful buildings in downtown, that it would be torn down and a parking lot would be in its place. I had no plan to open a photography studio, I was teaching journalism and freelancing to several newspapers at that time. I'm glad I made that decision because it has been such a great time here, I remind myself daily that I am very lucky to be able to work in such a great place.

2. Can you tell us how you got started writing the popular "Leavenworth — Where history of the West began" columns?

A year ago I bought what Mary Everhard called the "Mother Load" of her glass plate collection from David R. Phillips of Chicago. As I began indexing these negatives, there are 3,000, I began to research a few and discovered wonderful histories about these people. Some of them common people with a common story, but rich in the history of our community. Dale Brendel stopped in my office one day and I persuaded him to allow these stories to be told.

3. You have earned the reputation of being one of the most dedicated historians in the area. What is it about our local history that has inspired you to write about the pioneer families who settled in the area?

Leavenworth is unique in its history because we were known as the "Queen City of the West" this was the finest city between Saint Louis and San Francisco. That says a lot about our history, a history we should be proud of. Early day pioneers came through here on their way out west, it was here that seven historic trails passed through. We are more than a prison town, we played an important role in the making of this country.

4. You specialize in portraits, weddings, passport photos and you copy old photographs. Which area do you like the best and which category allows you the most creativity?

I have been very lucky to have been able to produce wonderful portraits of people over the years. I am a part of the history of that person's life because I captured that moment and now it is a wonderful memory for them throughout their lives.

5. You've seen a lot of major changes in the photography world over the last 20 years. Has the transition from print photography to digital been a good thing overall and has digital been able to live up to the creative aspects of processing photos in a darkroom?

Digital is fast and easy but it will never replace the quality of film. The true artistry of film photography is to see the image through the view finder, compose your image and then expose the film. There was so much depth to an image printed from a negative. The digital image is flat and has no dimension. I began shooting with the Mamiya medium format camera about a year ago. I still shoot with my Mamiya 645 film camera, but that is strictly black and white. When I was in the process of buying the camera, the spokesman at Mamiya said to me "Your gonna love this camera....this is as close to shooting film as you will ever get!" We have come full circle.

Bonus question: Can you tell us about some of the most memorable photos you've taken and what made them so special?

I have won several international awards for photojournalism but my favorite was winning the "Day in the Life of the Military" for Soldiers magazine.
The challenge was to capture images that were the essence of military life on June 21. I had 45 minutes to spare when I drove on base and remembered what it was like to grow up on Fort Leavenworth and I drove around and captured those memories. I was one of a dozen photographers in the world chosen, and Fort Leavenworth was in Soldiers Magazine because of me.

— Rimsie McConiga