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Columbia man, 71, known for embracing future of photography

Tuesday, July 3, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:15 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Roger Berg sets up his camera to take photos on a family vacation to Lake Superior in 2001.

As the family looked for pictures of Roger Berg for his visitation, they found it difficult. He was always the one taking the pictures.

Jeff Berg, son of the longtime Columbia photographer, said there was no shortage of photographs of everyone else in the family. His father had seen to that.

“We went through thousands of pictures, which jogged all kinds of memories,” he said. “It’s kind of unique to have your life catalogued like that. I told the preacher that when any of us die he’ll have enough pictures to wallpaper the place. But with him, it was difficult to find 100 pictures that he was in, and they are mostly crappy snapshots.”

Berg, who parlayed an early interest in photography into a career, died June 20 from cancer. He was 71.

Berg loved the camera, and was rarely seen without it.

“He lived to work,” Jeff Berg, 45, said. “I will always remember him taking pictures.”

Roger Berg owned Roger Berg’s Creative Photography Studio, where he specialized in portrait photography and digital imaging. Born in 1935 in Crookston, Minn., he built his own telescope at age 15. An interest in taking pictures through the telescope led him to learn how to process film and take photographs.

In 1968, Berg and Tom Atkins started a local camera store he named Columbia Photo Supply. Before he sold the business in 1992, Berg held exhibits displaying works of artists such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.

Deborah Dewitt, who began working at Columbia Photo in 1983, said Berg taught her new technology and how to apply it. “He never fought it, and he made me accept it,” she said.

When Berg told her to learn how to transfer home movies and photos to video, Dewitt said, she resisted.

“He made me do it,” she said, “and it turns out after a week I was like a celebrity in town because I was the only one who could do this in the area. Ever since, I have learned to love the art of video production. It was the best thing that ever happened in my life.”

In response to Berg’s death, online tributes have been set up and the family has received hundreds of letters with condolences and reflections on his life.

Jeff Berg said that his e-mail is full of letters, including one from professional photographer Earl Kogler, a former Columbian who lives in Orlando, Fla.: “I think one of the most rewarding things we can do in this life is to make a difference in someone else’s life, and your father certainly did that for me. His confidence in me and his patient manner have taught me much.”

Roger Berg was described as energetic and creative.

“I would say he enjoyed learning and evolving with it,” said Chips Godfrey, who worked for Berg for 18 years. “He embraced digital when most photographers were saying digital would never be as good as film.”

In 1992, Berg sold his interest in Columbia Photo in pursuit of commercial photography. He built his studio on Old 63 in 2000.

“Probably the thing he was most proud of was this business and this building and putting this dream of his together,” Jeff Berg said. “He was just as proud as he can be. He lived to work.”

Roger Berg was diagnosed with lung cancer in January. Jeff Berg said the family was initially in shock and tried to be with him every day and celebrate the time they had together.

He said his father never once complained and would turn away visitors who came in with long faces. Fifteen days before his death, he was still attending Macintosh User Group meetings.

After his father died, Jeff Berg found a picture of himself as a toddler, grasping his father’s finger. It was one of the first pictures taken of the two of them together. “Seeing that kind of stuff is pretty awesome,” Jeff Berg said.

Jeff Berg said his father’s business will continue, just as his father would have wanted.


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