Yuma photographer's work to be available for last time
Yuma-area residents will be given access to the life's work of renowned photographer Emil Eger for the last time Sunday and Monday at his former studio in the Historic North End.
Portraits by Emil, 228 2nd Ave., will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday. Visitors will be able to view and purchase thousands of negatives and hundreds of portraits of Yuma residents Emil photographed during his career, which spanned more than 57 years.
Some historical photos of the Yuma area will also be available for purchase, although all the negatives will be donated to the Arizona Historical Society to be preserved for posterity.
Emil lived to take pictures, and made it his mission to document all he saw on film. The famous shutterbug once said, “I love nature and I love people. I have always tried to photograph the beauty that I saw in both.”
During his life, Eger earned the title of Master of Photography and was recognized for his work on the national level. Additionally, he was awarded the “Golden Apple” and “Crystal Apple” awards by the Arizona Professional Photographers Association (PPA).
In Yuma, Emil was presented with the Francis Woodard Award, and in October 2007 was given the city of Yuma's Muse Award.
Eger died in 2009. His wife Winona, who helped operate Portraits by Emil, died over a year ago.
The studio will be reopened under the supervision of Emil's daughter, Suzi Morse.
“He cared so much about the community in so many ways and he was always interested in what was going on,” she said, noting her father left behind a treasure trove of Yuma history in photographs.
“He always felt bad it was all locked up in one place. There are piles and piles of photographs. It just breaks my heart to think those people can't have those, so that is why I am doing this.”
The photos and negatives are neatly organized and Morse will be able to search for specific individuals, couples or families who were photographed, she said.
It will be difficult to part with the work her father left behind, but Morse believes it will be a great benefit to Yuma residents.
Emil “loved his community and he loved his work and it is a difficult thing to get rid of,” she said. “I feel like I am holding the city of Yuma in my hand. And I just feel, as much as possible, it belongs to the people. I think that would make him happy. I get kind of emotional when I talk about it.”
Eger was born in Yuma in 1917. As a child, Eger became fascinated with photography, and learned how to take pictures with his father's Kodak 122 folding camera.
As a student, he was responsible for setting up the first darkroom at Yuma High School, and was able to initiate the photo department there with the help of a science teacher.
After graduating from YHS, Eger attended Redlands University. He later returned to Yuma and worked for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
“We surveyed the river from Parker to the Mexican border,” Eger told the Yuma Sun before his death. “We probably made most of the blueprints for the All-American Canal and Imperial Dam.”
In 1940, Emil met and fell in love with his wife of 69 years, Winona Brion.
During World War II, Eger worked for what is now Yuma Proving Ground where he produced photography and filed reports until the end of the war. In 1945, he opened his studio.
Due to failing eyesight, Emil retired in July of 2002. In April, 2003, Eger was featured in the PBS television documentary “The Changing Face of the Colorado River.”