Mel Grubb and David McNeil


BLUEFIELD, West Virginia (WVVA) –

“Born and raised in Bluefield. I’m only 91,” said Mel Grubb speaking with former journalist Travis Roberts in January 2016.

World-renowned pilot and photographer Mel Grubb didn’t let age slow him down as he continued to fly and take aerial photos well into his 90s.

“You go everywhere, you see everything,” Grubb said. “Something new every day. It’s a challenge.”

Grubb started his photography business in 1947 after serving in the Pacific during World War II.

In addition to his private and commercial photography business, he has also documented many famous faces who have visited this area over the decades.

Some of them include Elenor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy speaking at the then separate Bluefield State College, JFK and his wife Jackie, Hubert Humphrey – Arch Moore – Jennings Randolph and Robert Byrd – and he had a special experience in se standing on a ladder to photograph Robert Kennedy speaking from the steps of the Princeton Courthouse.

“Mr. Kennedy’s leader came over and said if he could use the ladder and let Mr. Kennedy stand on it, Bobby Kennedy,” Grubb said. “Of course I had to say yes, and I’m a Republican. .”

He says his most famous photo is undoubtedly the aerial image of fog rolling over East River Mountain in Bluefield.

Although Grubb isn’t as active as he once was, he doesn’t plan to fully retire.

“Photography and flying, two great hobbies,” Grubb said.

While Grubb continued to take pictures throughout his life, he passed the business on in 2005 to someone he knew would continue the quality, passion and business standard – David McNeil. Our Joshua Bolden met McNeil in February 2022.

They say life flashes before our eyes, but between those flashes are moments captured in time.

“My first camera was a Pentax H1A,” McNeil said.

The moments they develop define our lives, like in 1972 when 17-year-old David McNeil walked through the doors of Grubb Photo Service.

“I brought my first camera from Grubb Photo who had a camera store at the time,” McNeil said, “it was a single-lens reflex camera, but at the time it wasn’t There wasn’t even a light meter, so you had to make your best guess.”

Legendary photographer Mel Grubb saw the Northfork native’s passion.

“I kept bugging him, asking, ‘Does that look good? What should I do here? What should I do there?’ and I guess he impressed him enough that he called me and offered me a job.

Grubb exposed McNeil to the tricks of the trade.

“Take pictures of underground mines, you have to create the whole lighting effect because it’s black on black on black.”

The duo would work side by side until Grubb retired in 2005.

“Mr. Grubb was like a second father to me,” McNeil said.

“He trusted me. We were a good team at one point, it became second nature that I could almost tell what he was thinking. I knew where I needed to put lights and set up cameras and tripods and later he did the same for me.

After half a century in photography, McNeil says it’s time to move on to the next image.

“Retirement. I just want to relax for a while, [I have] I want to get into a lot of projects around our house,” McNeil said, “when you have a business like this, you’re married to it to some degree, so I’m looking forward to it.

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