Fifty years, as the anniversary experts say, is a golden occasion.
Virginia Goerger, of Wyndmere, North Dakota, is celebrating one such milestone. In 1967, she launched Virginia’s Photos, following in the footsteps of her father, Conrad Vaplon. Like Vaplon, Goerger and her Nikon — still used to this day — became a familiar sight at local events and weddings.
“I love people,” said Goerger, who will turn 77 in July. “That is why I am a photographer. I love history. I love people. I love happy things and my photography took me to most happy things.”
In 1987, Goerger expanded her business to become Virginia’s Photos & Flowers. Supplying wholesale flowers began as a necessity, she explained.
“At many of the weddings I attended, flowers would fall apart or other bad things would happen,” Goerger continued. “There were even times where the florists wouldn’t show up when I needed to take pictures.”
Last fall, Goerger provided the flowers when two of her grandchildren were married.
“The grandchildren, the granddaughter and the granddaughter-to-be, wanted to be a part of that. We worked as a team to do their wedding. Showing them the creativity of making bouquets and corsages and seeing them work was a real joy,” she said.
Currently, Goerger does more floral work than she does photography. While she does work digitally, Goerger said she finds having to adjust her work on a computer to be boring.
“I do believe that in order to be a good photographer, you have to be an artist,” she continued. “Nowadays, so many photographers take a zillion pictures. They go click-click-click-click and then they have to do all this editing. With film, I had to make sure I had my composition, my focusing and my lighting correct immediately before I shot. There were very few throwaway pictures because I made sure that I made every one count.”
Goerger made her photos work in all situations, ranging from a wedding to high above Richland County, North Dakota. Recalling her experiences with local pilots, several of whom would test her with daredevil moves, Goerger smiled and said it was a good thing she’s adventurous.
“You have one split second to get that perfect shot of a farmstead or that part of the city,” Goerger continued. “I usually took two cameras. Here I am, hanging on to the wing, with one camera around my neck. I got every photo, the way it was supposed to be.”
For most wedding assignments, Goerger would take three cameras, she recalled. Two contained color film and one contained black and white film. This was beneficial, because it meant she never had to miss anything. Thanks to the Nikon’s wide angle and telephoto lens settings, Goerger was able to capture the stories of an event, observing without interrupting.
Her wedding assignments would take her to places like Bismarck, Grand Forks, the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Once she became involved with flowers, it wasn’t unusual to have a long day’s work. And, of course, there were any combination of locations and weather conditions to adjust to.
“You have to be so flexible, so spontaneous,” Goerger recalled.
In 1987, people had never heard of a combination wedding photographer-flower supplier, Goerger added. But flowers, nature and 4-H have long been a part of her life.
“One of the things that shaped me was the 4-H program,” she continued. “I’ve been part of the program for more than 50 years. I’ve taught photography to many 4-H members and been a judge in many county fairs. I still am a judge. That is a huge part of my life.”
A mother of three — Ida, Rosemary and Edmund — Goerger recalls with pride how her two youngest children went on to win state photography championships with not only the skills she taught them, but the Nikon itself. She’s equally proud that the Camera Club of Lidgerwood, North Dakota, which Conrad Vaplon helped form in 1954, continues to support an environment of sharing and education for its members. Goerger is the club’s current president.
“I feel very privileged to be connected, in my early life and now, to this organization,” she said.
Photography, Goerger continued, is a talent that has no age requirement. It welcomes the artistic and the technically inclined. It is a tool for creativity and history. “If you don’t record it, you don’t have the memory of it,” she said.
Certain photos have special meaning for Goerger, a grandmother of seven and a great grandmother of four. There’s the one she took of a rainbow’s full arc, which was visible in her neighborhood one lucky moment. Then there’s “Last Touch,” a photo of her husband, David, placing his hand in his sister’s. David Goerger passed away in March 2001 after nearly 43 years of marriage.
“David was the unspoken pillar who never prevented me from being who I am and what I am,” Goerger said. “He always was there. However — it was kinda cute — when I started taking pictures, he made (one thing) quite clear. We had a photographer called Louise Frost at the Lidgerwood Monitor. Her husband, Charlie, was always at her side and carried her camera bag. When I started my photography, David said ‘Don’t think I’m going to carry your bag.’ He supported me all the way, of course, but he wasn’t going to be my trailer.”
Aside from a period of one year, Goerger always had a separate bank account for Virginia’s Photos. She stressed the importance of treating a business like a business.
“Photography is a wonderful business for a woman or a man to use as a second business,” she said. “It’s not a business that I recommend as your only breadwinner. It’s so feast-or-famine, especially in the rural area. But it is a wonderful service. I can’t say it enough. I feel I never have to retire.”