Cancer diagnosis focused Bell


Jan Bell is quite serious about “Quiet Contemplation.”

The name of his photography book is also how he lives a lot of his life.

Several times a year, Bell will leave his Bowling Green home for weeks of solitude: Just him and nature.

“I’m an outdoorsperson — lots of trips, photo trips,” he said. “It’s as much about the outdoor experience, as it is the photography for me. Just being at one with nature.”

His most recent excursion was a 12-week trip out West.

“Seven weeks of that was just me. And I love being out there by myself,” said Bell, who is 68.

He took his teardrop camper for seven weeks of photography on the Northern California and Oregon coasts.

Next, Bell joined his wife, Carol, in Los Angeles, along with one of their two sons. On the way home, the couple hit parks in high elevations.

The Bells have lived in Bowling Green for 40 years — their current home is perhaps one of the most photogenic and one-with-nature properties in the city, overlooking Wintergarden/St. John’s Nature Preserve.

Bell attended Ohio Northern University for two years and graduated from Bowling Green State University. He worked at WBGU-PBS for 32 years as design director.

“The best part of that job was working with students,” he said.

He did photography while working, but truly embraced it after retirement.

“This has been my passion ever since and it’s just been growing and growing,” said Bell, who won an Ansel Adams award for his photography in 2010.

“That was like winning the Pulitzer Prize for a photographer,” he said.

Adams was a landscape photographer known for his images of the American West.

In the early 2000s, Bell started doing photography shows, including the Black Swamp Arts Festival where he won a Best of Show award.

His focus shifted when, in 2017, he found out he had multiple myeloma.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer, you start to think about your life. Life span becomes something that’s on your mind,” Bell said. “Three things rose to the top of my to-do list.”

One was to print a hardcover photography book of his work.

“Thanks to the help of generous donations, the book was completed last summer. The book was printed in Vancouver, British Columbia, by one of the premiere printers in North America,” he said. “The quality is outstanding.

“I view it as my legacy,” Bell said of the book. “I want to be remembered by this. That was critically important to me.”

It’s all black-and-white photos, which is his specialty.

“I took a workshop many years ago at the Ansel Adams Center and I just fell in love with black-and-white photography at that time, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

The photos in “Quiet Contemplation” were done with a stochastic printing method — giving it a fine grain — on the best stock of paper available. There were two tones of black ink to give depth and each photo is spot varnished.

Nine renowned national photographers/colleagues wrote the introductions to sections of the book.

Some of the photography is painstakingly taken.

The weather has to be overcast, Bell said. One photo of Lake Superior in the book was taken when he and Carol were out during the day and the sun was bright.

“So I went back at sunset and waited until the sun had gone over the horizon. There was no way to get this shot unless I got out in the water, and the water of Superior is frigid cold,” he said. “I went in in my boxers, but I had a polar fleece coat.”

The second goal after the cancer diagnosis — to lead an annual workshop at Lake Superior — was next to be checked off the to-do list. Bell’s heading back to Rock Island Lodge, Ontario, located on the lake, this fall to lead his third workshop.

“Having achieved these two goals, I added a third goal – an annual photography grant. It’s my way to say thank you for all I have received through the years.”

The Bells arranged to have it administered by the Friends of Lake Superior Provincial Park. The first recipient of the $1,500 grant was chosen this year, and will spend a week within Lake Superior Provincial Park taking photographs for the project and also providing some sort of outreach for the park.

For more information about the book or to see Bell’s work, visit

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