by Diane Wallace
George Wallace was born in San Francisco in 1915. He excelled in two unrelated fields, speedskating and photography.
Wallace took up ice skating at the age of 13 and taught himself to skate. Two years later, he graduated from high school with academic scholarships to Stanford University in California, and later to Dartmouth in New Hampshire. After winning all of the major US speed skating competitions, he beat all active world champions in different European competitions. He never had a skating coach. Wallace skated some of his best races in Europe as an independent, which deprived him of official US recognition.
George Wallace came into his prime as one of the fastest men on ice in 1940. Originally a member of the US Olympic Team, he became the only American athlete to compete (independently) in the 1940 World Games. Wallace won top medals in Latvia in minus 40 degree Celsius weather, so cold that the race horses were not permitted out for fear their lungs would freeze, but the athletes still had to compete. (The World Games replaced the Olympics, which were cancelled due to the War. Other American athletes had planned later departure dates, but were ultimately unable to compete when their visas were cancelled.)
In 1939 the Oslo Skating Club had invited Wallace to come as their guest to Norway to train on outdoor ice. While there he fell in love with a beautiful Norwegian girl, Inger Dahlberg. He risked his life to get her out of Norway after the German occupation. They fled to Italy where the misfortune of others enabled them to get passage on the U. S. Manhattan, the last passenger boat to leave Europe before shipping channels were closed by WWII. Married for 61 years, they had 7 children, 17 grandchildren, and 21 great grandchildren.
During WWII George Wallace was Vice President of US Pipe & Mfg. Co in San Francisco, CA. The family-owned company was started by Philip Bowers Wallace Sr, his father, and managed by Philip B. Wallace Jr, his brother. To support the war effort, the company abandoned its normal municipal projects and retooled to help construct Liberty Ships for the Navy. The atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima also destroyed the company, as one week later all military war-related contracts in the U. S. were abruptly cancelled. The cost of retooling for civilian construction, in addition to a shortage of funding for civilian and municipal projects, ultimately destroyed the company. Too many companies were in a similar position, all competing for too few jobs. The company never recovered.
George Wallace had a great sense of humor, a wide-ranging interest in many subjects, and supreme optimism that he was able to sustain even after family fortunes declined. While he was born into upper middle class wealth, he hated ostentation and artificiality. His wife Inger was his constant companion and partner in work and play. They traveled together and photographed extensively in remote regions of Mexico and Norway.
A perfectionist with incredible tenacity, Wallace worked in the darkroom or at the typewriter (replaced by the computer in 1979) at all hours of the day and night, and was still chasing his dreams when he died unexpectedly of a stroke at age 86.
George Wallace was obsessed with photography for 73 years. He began at the age of 12 with view cameras, but later used cameras made by Contax, Leica, Rolleiflex, and Nikon. For two years in the late 1940’s he was a full time student (on scholarship) with Ansel Adams, Minor White and Edward Weston. These three are ranked among the greatest American photographers of the last century. Under their instruction, Wallace became a master photographer.
With manual controls, a skilled photographer could select the largest aperture that would still give the desired depth of field. Ansel Adams’ field handbook for DOF used 45 different math formulas to determine the best aperture for different situations. George knew them all. As a Professor of Photography, he would later spend nine months replacing those formulas with a simple hand calculator (see Depth of Field Guide). It let a beginner select the best aperture in seconds – for every subject, for every lens.
A fluid and relaxed location shooter, George could literally shoot from the hip while appearing to be disinterested in the subject. It took a lot of practice to develop this skill, necessary to avoid alarming primitive peoples, who often feared that photographic images imprisoned their spirits. There was a lot of respect for his subjects, and their feelings mattered. Often there would be a friendly conversation (in Spanish or in Norwegian) during the session – this helped everyone relax and develop a good relationship, which showed in the images.
Working with minimal equipment, Wallace captured natural candid photos with great sensitivity and presence. He used only available light and a steady hand braced against his own body and nearby objects, and occasionally a mini-tripod. Using slow dense films for their image quality, he preferred BW - AGFA 100 and Kodachrome 25 slide films. His images were always in focus, with great DOF, in spite of overcast days, rapidly moving streams, and dark interiors.
Wallace did all of his own printing in BW, or Cibachrome for color. He was a perfectionist, discarding almost everything he printed. It was expensive. It took forever. It drove the family nuts. Most of his photographic archive was destroyed in a fire in 1989, but negatives and slides from rural Mexico (four years on every road on the map) and from Norway were spared. (Some are posted to illustrate the Aperture Guide.) Selected Mexican photos were published in “The Mexican Cookbook”, written and illustrated by George and Inger Wallace, published by Nitty Gritty in 1971 (we are considering reprinting it again ourselves). In 1979 he exhibited the first color prints (Cibachromes) ever accepted by Photo Gallery International in Tokyo.
Wallace had triple MA degrees in the Physical Sciences, a BA in Math, and taught Photography (as a science) at San Jose State University in California. He invented the ExpoDisc to help photo students get perfect exposures with slide film. The handy Aperture/Depth-of-Field Guide gave them quick answers for Depth-of-Field problems, letting them shoot at least 4x faster than autofocus cameras would allow. Many years were spent perfecting these tools (the Perfect Picture Kit), designed to be used together, but they did not catch on in his lifetime. He wrote (completed only weeks before his death, but never published) “Photography the Wallace Way”, a short handbook of photo concepts and techniques derived from his extensive study with Ansel Adams and a lifetime of analysis. It explains and simplifies fundamental classic elements now neglected by many students of photography. A devoted teacher, George Wallace had innumerable international students whom he taught without fee on the internet. (A Minolta website is dedicated to his memory.)
George Wallace was an expert with the Zone system, having studied two years full-time as a scholarship student with Ansel Adams, Minor White, and Edward Weston in the 1940's. The photo above shows George Wallace and Minor White at Point Lobos, Carmel, Calif, in 1948.
George Wallace was not a fan of early digital photography. Diane Wallace realized that the ExpoDisc technology enabled dramatic improvements in digital images and workflow. After her father's death in May of 2001, she guided the company into the era of digital photography by developing a line of ExpoDisc products for digital camera applications. Its current success is due to widespread enthusiasm of many professional and amateur photographers, and to extensive coverage in digital photo publications.