Ladder Stories: Up and Down in Life and Photography

David McCammon Photography

A smile bubbled inside listening to a presentation on ladder safety the other day. Ladder stories came to mind.

Such a wonderful tool for many practical challenges; painting, cleaning eavestroughs, trimming trees. A ladder is often in the back of my car when I head out on photography assignments. Ansel Adams used a ladder to get onto a platform on top of his car. It provided a unique perspective while creating some of his inspired landscape photographs.

I had an old, slightly bent 5 foot aluminum stepladder with a couple of nuts and bolts holding portions together. It had been a welcome gift from my father-in-law. When not positioned carefully it had an uncanny wobble. It served me well for many years.

The discussion on ladder safety reminded me of a time I was taking a group portrait for a Waterloo organization. They produced information pieces for various retail organizations on health and safety as well as loss prevention. We would photograph in offices, on shop floors, and in retail outlets creating potentially hazardous scenes. For a photographer used to making everything pristine for an image it was quite odd (and fun!) to be making a mess of things.

An interesting perspective was a must to create a great shot for the group. Out came Stewart’s old ladder. To get to the required point of view I stood on the second to last rung – a no, no in the safety universe. To be fair, if you’ve ever been on that rung it is precarious.

The safety people had a field day at my expense even joking about the improbability of working with me in the future. It created loads of fun and laughter providing just the right atmosphere to create the desired portrait. In my defense, the camera was on a tripod adding to my personal stability and safety.

Leaving the presentation, more ladder stories flooded my mind…

In my teens, I leaned an extension ladder against our 1 story home to clean the eaves without a “safety” at the bottom. This dates back to a time when safety was not on our minds to the degree it is today. I was uncomfortable while reaching in for another soggy handful of leaves when sure enough the ladder slid right out from under me. I was quite fortunate to come down on both feet almost nailing a 2 point landing reminiscent of my gymnastic days. The only problem was one foot landed partially on the ladder leaving me with a limp and a “war story” to share.

One summer I was scraping and painting my parent’s clapboard farmhouse. I had just started dating a local beauty whose father ran the town’s only hardware store. For some reason, I was having issues with the windows having already visited the store two times to pick up replacements for the panes I had broken. Stewart, yup, my future father-in-law, also delivered propane tanks used for gas stoves. He was just leaving our place as I was repositioning the ladder. I turned to wave as he rolled down our driveway easing the ladder straight through another window. Stewart hollered out the window, “see you in a little while Dave!” We would all laugh at this story for years to come.

After using Stewart’s fine ladder for several years I was photographing a new Zehrs Markets store out of town. I had forgotten the ladder! A Home Hardware lay waiting in the same plaza. I sauntered in and picked up a beautiful new 6 foot ladder and used it to get just the right perspective on their brand new hot deli!

I also have an old wooden ladder I’ve used as a prop for portraits. Ladders, who knew they would add to my own stories. That new aluminum beast hangs in the garage eagerly awaiting another road trip…