CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For people of a certain age, it began with a Brownie camera, which in its own way was the Instagram photo-sharing app of its day.
Betty Rivard, born in 1944 in Detroit, was one of the many who took up the device. Rivard grew up with the Brownie, a simple Eastman Kodak camera that popularized low-cost photography after its introduction at the start of the 20th century.
"You talk about 'digital native,' I was black-and-white native," says Rivard, seated in Taylor Books on Capitol Street in Charleston. She cast her memory back to how her parents helped stoke her love of taking photos.
"I had had cameras from the time I was young. My father was an amateur photographer. They would buy me a new Brownie camera every year."
It's a long way from there to 2013. Therein lies a tale of how it took Rivard a lifetime, after retiring from a whole different career in social services, to finally get around to winning prizes and sales for her photos, and then taking things a further step.
For her photography passion -- "my mission," she puts it -- has also taken form on the shelves of Taylor Books. There you'll find a handsome new hardback book of 150 photos she helped to birth: "New Deal Photographs of West Virginia: 1934-1943" (West Virginia University Press).
Pictures, after all, raise issues.
When Rivard was 11, her family moved from Detroit to San Francisco. Some years later, as she pondered college, her father announced another ambitious move. The family would leap to the other side of America, to West Virginia, where he'd landed a job in Morgantown.
But not Rivard. She remained behind to attend what she dubbed her "neighborhood school," the University of California-Berkeley, which sprawls along the eastern side of San Francisco Bay.
"Back then, if you had a B-plus average and you took the core subjects, you were automatically admitted. It cost $125 a semester for tuition," said Rivard. "So, it was a very familiar place to go."
She pursued a degree in political science with a specialty in political theory. She became involved in the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, which led to her arrest in 1964 -- along with 800 other students occupying an administration building. She pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest. ("What that meant is, if you went limp and allowed yourself to be carried out of the building, that was considered 'resisting arrest,'" she said.)
Cameras continued their appeal in college, she remembered. "There was a darkroom in the student union you could use for 50 cents an hour. I went in there and played with some old negatives of my family. Enough to get a taste of it."
Life intervened, as it tends to do, with other paths.
After completing Berkeley and a stint at Barnard College, in New York, she rejoined her family in West Virginia. She married, and at one point she and her husband, Rick, raised sheep in the 1970s at their Monongalia County farm. She knows the exact number still: 67 of them.
"But we were two city kids, basically, and weren't very good at it."
They had two sons (the younger, Ry, is a political reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail). A divorce came along.
She continued to work her way through a social services career, which put her to work in Marion and Monongalia counties, then finally Kanawha County and the state Capitol. Along the way, she roamed back roads helping clients, became involved in the "deinstitutionalization" of Weston State Hospital patients, did work with nursing homes.
In the concluding years of her career in Charleston she worked as executive assistant in an office devoted to state social services planning. Looking back on it all, she said: "I became a social worker and loved it. Stayed with it for 25 years."
As her professional career came to a close in the late 1990s, Rivard said, "I thought when I retired I would be a writer."
But it was the camera, not the notepad or keyboard, that caught her eye. Again.
"I started playing around with panoramic cameras and got some pieces in the state juried exhibition. I went around and asked some photographers if I could be an apprentice."
Ditch the cheapo cameras, the pros told her. "One of them, Steve Payne, said, you know, get real -- get a 35 mm and a tripod and go from there."
She apprenticed with Jurgen Lorensen in Summersville, learning darkroom techniques. She started to win awards, sell pieces.
All the while, she was pondering the role photographs could serve in improving West Virginia's image. Why didn't more museums and galleries feature fine art photos depicting a broader image of life in these hills?
"I started doing all West Virginia landscapes. I wanted to show the beauty and individuality of everyday life in West Virginia. That was actually my mission -- still is."
West Virginia has historically been ill-served by photography and by the many drive-by photo shooters and writers who've dropped in for a peek, Rivard said.
"The state has suffered from so many negative images brought in from the outside, going back to the 1880s. It's almost like you open a book and cringe. It was sort of a poster child for poverty for so long. There were these sort of mercenary journalists that came in from the East Coast and kind of invented these backwoods-type stories. Then took them back and they sold well."