CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Greg Henshall takes his digital camera wherever he goes -- and he goes everywhere. The gregarious gadabout loves taking pictures of people having a good time.
At 64, he's finally free to do that.
He paid his dues on the staid and serious stuff as a photographer for Union Carbide and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Grim scenes from the catastrophes he covered for FEMA remain as sharp and vivid in his mind as the pictures he took of them. No photographer could forget the wrath of Katrina and Sandy.
But all was not doom and gloom. At Carbide, along with routine headshots and scientific subjects, he photographed Carbiders at company social events, the part of the job he most enjoyed.
Now, his social shots will appear regularly in the Sunday Gazette-Mail's photo feature, "On the Town." He says he can't be as omnipresent as retired "On the Town" shutterbug Lucie Mellert, but he promises to do what he can.
A boisterous personality masks the sadness that haunts him over the untimely deaths of his father, wife and grandson. Photography keeps him going.
"I grew up in northern New Jersey. My dad was a decorated military pilot in the Korean War. He went to work for TWA but stayed in the Marine Corps Reserves. He was a lieutenant colonel. He would fly a jet fighter once a month on active duty. Once a year, he would go for two weeks. In 1963, he took the whole family to the base in Cherry Point, N.C.
"His jet came in for a landing, and the front wheel collapsed. The plane caught fire and he ejected. He survived for about an hour and died.
"I have two sisters and one brother and my mother, and we were all there. I was 13. It hit us like a sledgehammer.
"I tried to get into the Marine Corps as a pilot, but I had taken some tests and they told me no. I wasn't sure I wanted to go to Vietnam. My lottery number was 151, and I never got called.
"I wanted to get out of New Jersey. I applied here to Morris Harvey [now the University of Charleston] where I met my wife. She was from Long Island. After two years, we got married.
"My degree is in psychology. To go to graduate school, I would have had to drive to Marshall every day, and I had to work.
"I worked for places that no longer exist. My first job was at McClung and Morgan, a department store in South Charleston. I left them for the S. Spencer Moore Co., and sold cameras. I worked for the West Virginia Air Pollution Control Commission, and they were absorbed into the DNR. Then I went to work for Carbide.
"I was in the camera club at Morris Harvey and fell in love with photography. I had an old Argus C3 from the early '50s, a basic film camera that was my father's. The college had a darkroom. This was magic. Seeing a picture develop for the first time is incredible.
"I learned more and more about photography at S. Spencer Moore. A photographer from Carbide came into S. Spencer Moore and said I should apply at Carbide. I went to work there in August of 1975 in the photo department, industrial photography.
"It was very boring at first. Scientists want to do a research presentation so you go photograph their lab. They have word slides and picture slides and diagram slides. Then you photograph people for portraits because they got promoted. You photograph people for passports because they're going overseas. And you photograph things at the plants. It's not exciting, but it was a better-paying job, and I liked it. I just like photography. I did that until 2004.
"It was a thriving place until Bhopal in 1985. That changed everything. Carbide finally decided that it was due to sabotage from a person who had been fired in India. It wasn't Carbide's fault, but Carbide got blamed.
"Carbide's fortunes went downhill. Carbide was like a family. When Dow bought Carbide, the culture was different. It took a lot of adjustment.
"In 2002, I was given early retirement. I was 50 and got full retirement. I stayed on as a contract employee. I heard then that I was going to be let go. On a whim, I applied to FEMA.
"I applied online. I thought they would get back to me in two or three months. They called me three days later, on a Sunday. FEMA was a whole different animal. Government regulations and procedures. You have to go to class to learn how to do things. It's difficult, almost like the military.