A university photographer in the former Visual Services department from 1970 until his retirement in 1981, Russell C. Hamilton saw Cornell through the turbulent years of student unrest and the era of rebuilding to a major research university. He died Sunday, December 16, at his home in Trumansburg, of congestive heart failure.
Before joining the Cornell staff, Hamilton was a newspaper photographer for the Philadelphia Bulletin. His news pictures also appeared in Time magazine and were distributed on the wire services. A stickler for image quality, regardless of film size, Hamilton helped put 35-millimeter cameras in the hands of reluctant newspaper photographers.
“They didn’t want to give up the four-by-five-inch film of the big Speed Graphics, and they thought two-and-a-quarter-inch film in their Rolleiflex twin-lens cameras was ‘small format,’” recalls Charlie Harrington, a now-retired colleague in Cornell Visual Services. “Russ demonstrated that fine-grained film and careful processing in the darkroom could make 35-mm a viable medium for press photography.” As the American consultant for Japanese camera companies in the 1950s and early 60s, Hamilton field-tested the single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras and lens systems that became standard equipment for photojournalists. He shared his knowledge of 35-mm photography in articles for trade publications and Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia.
At Cornell, Hamilton documented the troubled times (after the 1969 Straight takeover, through the anti-war protests, to the 1972 occupation of Carpenter Hall), as well as the triumphs. A counterpoint to the other lead photographer in Visual Services (the gruff, cigar-wielding Sol Goldberg) the jocular man in the white Santa beard charmed his photographic subjects—making them as comfortable in front of the lens as he was behind. He was the photo editor of the Cornell Chronicle in the 1970s. In the amateur radio “ham” community, locally and worldwide, Russ Hamilton was the man behind the call sign W2FXU.
Russ Hamilton was born June 6, 1918, in Philadelphia. He is survived by his wife of more than 65 years, Hester Glovier Hamilton, and two sons.
Calling hours are schedule for Thursday, December 20, 2007 from 6-8:00pm at Ness-Sibley Funeral Home. A memorial service is being planned for Spring 2008.