Worldly inspiration found at home

Ex-commissioner culls local treasures in new photo book


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During the four years Bob Cranmer served as an Allegheny County Commissioner, his duties took him to every corner of the county. During that term, from 1996 until 2000, he began to appreciate the region's landscape and yearned to capture those images on film.

Mr. Cranmer, 52, of Brentwood, has compiled a book of 81 photos he hopes to publish by the end of the year. "The World Through a Pittsburgh Lens" includes both urban and rural landscapes, churches, buildings and homes that reflect the region's ethnic diversity.

"Criss-crossing the county, I noticed all of these unique towns with their own individual histories," Mr. Cranmer said. He noted that many of the landscapes and architecture of Allegheny County were reminiscent of other countries, clearly influenced by the immigrants who made Western Pennsylvania their new home.

"I thought easily that one could be a farmhouse in Germany, or another a countryside of Ireland," he said.

When Mr. Cranmer left office, he mapped out the county and purchased a camera.

"I went out on weekends and started taking hundreds of pictures," he said.

By the end of 2002, Mr. Cranmer had put together a basic book proposal outlining his vision to showcase Allegheny County through his photos. There was some initial interest by publishers, but nothing materialized.Mr. Cranmer said that he discovered writing a book is much easier than getting it published. With renewed resolve, he used desktop publishing software to create draft copies of the book to market his idea. He said he already has two interested publishers and hopes to have the book on shelves by year's end.

A longtime admirer of Ansel Adams, the American photographer renowned for his black-and-white landscapes, Mr. Cranmer strives to capture Allegheny County's diverse landscapes using a similar photographic style.

With no formal photography training, Mr. Cranmer said he tried to mimic what he liked in Mr. Adams' work. During weekend photography trips, Mr. Cranmer amassed a collection of nearly 500 images. From those, he selected 81 for inclusion in the book.

His criterion for inclusion was whether the photo would inspire readers to ask themselves, "Where in the world is that?"

The book is organized into two sections: The Scenery of Europe and Traditional American. An index of photo locations appears at the end of the book.

Andy Masich, CEO of Senator John Heinz History Center, and David Halaas, director of the Center for the French and Indian War at the center, wrote the foreword.

"Bob loves Allegheny County, and he loves photography," Mr. Masich said. Those two interests came together in this book."

Mr. Masich acknowledged that, unlike existing regional photography books focusing primarily on urban settings, Mr. Cranmer's book includes rural landscapes. "There may be a market for that," he said.

Mr. Cranmer has already spoken with Dawn Keezer, director of The Pittsburgh Film Office, who expressed the need for just such a book to promote the region to prospective filmmakers looking for locations.

He also believes the book could be used in other ways.

"When people are transferred here for work, they often think of it as the armpit of the world until they get here. Then, they love it and don't want to leave," Mr. Cranmer said.

"I think anyone who has lived here will appreciate it," Cranmer said.

Each photo was given a name highlighting the different style and mood it evokes. The cover photo is entitled "Boulevard in Paris" and is a particular favorite of Mr. Cranmer's. It shows a local Manchester streetscape reminiscent of France.

He designed the book to be interactive, hoping readers are intrigued by the photos and will be compelled to search for their true Allegheny County location in the picture index at the rear of the book.

The architectural style is also included for buildings and homes. Mr. Cranmer relied on Walter Kidney of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation to assist in identifying them. The book is dedicated to Mr. Kidney, who has since died.

Mr. Cranmer is now a government affairs consultant at Pugiliese Associates Inc., Downtown. He is also finishing his first novel.

Though he said he will "never say never" to another run for political office, Mr. Cranmer believes his campaigning days are over.

His wife, Lesa, their four children and two grandchildren are his focus these days. Pointing out civil servants make relatively low salaries compared to the private sector, he said, "I can't afford it."


Freelance writer Jennifer Goga can be reached in care of suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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