Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes Region, Geneva, N.Y. has been host to the Colleges for nearly two centuries— a city that has welcomed our students, supported our efforts and advanced our mission. But for many Hobart and William Smith Colleges alumni and alumnae, the region is simply home.
For more than 40 years, Neil Sjoblom '75 has been photographing the people of Geneva at his studio on Linden Street in downtown Geneva.
by Lori A. Gable '86
With 40-plus years of experience as a Geneva-based photographer Neil Sjoblom '75 has captured the changes and milestones in the lives and landscape of the Finger Lakes region.
"The region as a whole is really coming into its own," he says. "It's being recognized internationally in terms of its beauty and quality of life, and is increasingly becoming well known as a tourist destination for its world class wines, food and recreation— not to mention its many fine colleges. I love this location and I'm glad I stayed here."
As a student at Hobart, Sjoblom was known as the "kid with the camera," backstage at concerts, speeches and political rallies, and on the sidelines of sporting events.
"My camera was my free ticket to everything," he says. "I did lots of photography for what was then called the Colleges' News Bureau. I was fascinated by the art created out at Houghton House by interesting characters like Professors Loftus, Sher and Hadeishi, and their students, so I became an art major."
By graduation, Sjoblom had "developed a very loyal following of customers in Geneva and was booked for two years solid—so I wasn't going anywhere. I felt sad that most of my classmates went home mostly to major metropolitan cities to launch their exciting new careers, but mine had already been established.
"And I love my work," he adds, "especially wedding photography. In what other profession are you invited to the biggest party of a person's life?" Sjoblom, who grew up in Geneva, says he feels fortunate to have attended a small liberal arts college where almost everyone knows one another. His engagement with the Colleges remains strong today, from donating his services in event coverage to hosting interns who want to sample the rigors of a general practice photography studio.
Each July, photographers from around the world come to HWS for a weeklong imaging workshop sponsored by the Professional Photographers Society of New York State. The workshop offers courses in portraiture, nature photography, and Photoshop.
"I think our workshop is one of the best values in professional photography education," says Sjoblom, who is a PPSNYS Workshop trustee and secretary. "It's also been hosted by Syracuse University, Geneseo and R.I.T. but it has been held at HWS the longest of any one place. The vineyards, lakes and architecture make for beautiful backdrops for photographs."
In the City of Geneva, Sjoblom has served on the board of directors for the Geneva Business Improvement District, a program launched by Geneva and the state to help improve downtown.
"There are low interest loans available for things like façade improvement, lighting and infrastructure," Sjoblom says. "As a result, people say downtown Geneva has never looked so good."
With the Finger Lakes wine and tourism industries drawing thousands of visitors and millions of dollars each year, Sjoblom is seeing new customers and new assignments, like photographing wine bottles for advertisements and promotions, "which takes a specialized skill to work with the glass because of the reflection of the labels," he explains.
The Professional Photographers of America, the nation's oldest and largest association of photographers, has recognized Sjoblom as a Master of Photography, which honors a photographer's achievements and standards of excellence. For Sjoblom though, photography isn't just the mechanics of the shutter and flash, or the craft of light and angle.
"Every time there's a disaster like a house fire or a flood, after the families and pets are rescued, people want their photographs," he says. "Photography is a lot of fun, but it's also very important in that I'm creating heirlooms that people will treasure forever."
Tracking The Renaissance