Dale Fisher turned ninety this year. He is known in Ann Arbor especially for views of local landmarks, nature, and Michigan Stadium—photos uniquely his, taken from great heights, whether from a helicopter or inside the stadium.

Photo: Joanne Ackerman

When he got out of the navy in 1954, his first job was covering football for the Ann Arbor News. Sixty-nine years later, he can still be found each fall at the stadium, camera at the ready.

Fisher grew up on Brown St., within blocks of the stadium. As a boy, he’d sometimes sneak in under the fence with friends to see a game, though his fondest memories are of fishing, hunting, and his once-a-week walk, on his grandfather’s payday, to get ice cream.

His most significant memory: in eighth grade, an after-school photography class taught by Mr. Van Ells changed his life. He “thought it would be a great place to be in a darkroom with girls,” he jokes, “though they didn’t give any more attention to me than they did outside of the darkroom. But I liked photography!

“I took photos of anything and everything; friends, squirrels, a steam engine train going over the Main Street bridge, boats on the Huron River.”

His Ann Arbor High science teacher, Mr. Buell, encouraged him, letting him use the school’s darkroom and arranging “an internship with a master photographer, Mr. Clifton Dey.” His aunt Marion gave him a “folding-up accordian camera.”

At seventeen, he enlisted in the navy during the Korean War. The recruiter guaranteed he would go into reconnaissance photography. This did not happen. He was temporarily assigned to the mess hall. It was not what he signed up for.

He gathered some of his photos—including one that won him a Kodak high school contest—and walked into the photographic office on the base. He placed them on the desk of the officer in charge, saying, “I signed up to learn photography. Look at them. If you like them, get me to photography school.” He turned and left.

“I was scared all night,” he recalls. “Thinking ‘what kind of trouble am I in? Am I going to be sent to jail?’”

The next day, he was told to collect his sea bag and report to the air operations officer. There he was given a sealed envelope with “Official Orders” printed in large letters and told to stand by a hangar and wait.

In a few minutes a plane arrived. He was told to get in. “Where are they taking me?” he wondered. “Am I going to Leavenworth?”

When the plane landed, a lieutenant was waiting in a Jeep. Silent and uncertain, he finally asked, “Where am I going?” The answer: “Photography school!”

Fisher says he “learned a lot” there, including vertical mapping—shooting straight down from high altitude—and oblique (angled) photography. He also mastered different chemical processes for developing color photos.

After his navy discharge, he returned to Ann Arbor and went into business. He says he offered “the first high-speed processing of color film in Ann Arbor and in Michigan.” Previously, it had to be sent to Kodak, which could take up to two weeks; Fisher offered twenty-four-hour service.

While continuing his work at the Ann Arbor News, he became a stringer for a press service and did commercial photography. He set up a professional darkroom in his Ann Arbor home and worked “day and night, weekends … even after holiday dinners, I’d excuse myself from the table and go to work.”

At the request of U-M athletic director Fritz Crisler, he created a photographic media service to cover football games. He recruited a six-person crew: two photographers on the field; his brother Doug and an assistant in a darkroom in the press box;and a writer preparing captions. Two high school students collected the film holders on the field, ran them up to the press box, and returned the reloaded holders to the field photographers. Fisher supervised the action, as well as stepping in and doing whatever was called for during those fast, intense moments.

His first aerial photos of the stadium were taken from a plane, but shooting from helicopters with custom-adapted cameras became his specialty. Taken from lower altitudes with dramatic perspectives, they looked like nothing else at the time. News sportswriter David Tefft coined the name “helioaerophoto,” which Fisher liked, but shortened to “heliphoto.”

In the navy, Fisher had learned to take photos from both airplanes and helicopters. “In planes the view is restricted,” he says. “On a helicopter, I see forward, but also peripherally … If I see another view that’s better, I take it.”

Unlike a plane, “a helicopter can go up and down,” he says. “Even at fifty feet you can get a different dimension, a different perspective.” His voice changes, to a quiet emphasis. “You pass through this dimension.” A pause. “When you are on a plane, you pass through on the way up or down, but nobody ever looks at it. In the helicopter, you look at it, you see it.”

In that moment, he looks “into,” rather than “at” the view. He “knows” when to take the photo.

Starting in the 1960s, Fisher traveled the country in a truck camper with his friend and pilot Richard Jackson, pulling his helicopter on a custom trailer. Once, while taking photos of Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona, they found themselves low on fuel, as high altitude alters fuel consumption. With less fuel than needed, the engine quit. The blades autorotated to slow their descent. They landed safely.

Another time, as they were over Lake Superior on their way to photograph a marina, he saw a bald eagle in flight. Quickly directing Jackson into position to take the new photo, he leaned out the door. One click, he got the shot. The eagle was gone.

It became his signature piece and the namesake of the Eyre of the Eagle Farm, his Grass Lake home, studio, gallery, and event space. When he’s not editing photos on dual monitors or printing them on large Canon printers, he’s working on his land, driving the tractor or making repairs.

He’s still looking for ways to share the experiences that shaped his love of photography and nature. For several years in the early 2000s, he taught third-graders how to take photographs, to really see what’s around them and to express what they feel. A photo of the children, and a few of their own photos, hang proudly in one of his galleries. He thinks about using his nonprofit Michigan Center for the Photographic Arts for children’s classes, and possibly teacher training.

Since Fisher began taking photos at the stadium, both the structure and the attendance have expanded. And the price of football tickets? When he began in 1954, a seat was $4. This year, a regular game is between $55 and $110, and a special one, like OSU, ranges from $175 to $205 (and in August, up to $1,700 on StubHub).

Because many people who work at the stadium don’t get to see much of the game, Fisher says, he started giving them prints of special moments, like paratroopers landing on the field. When I visited him in January, he’d just received a thank-you card from one of the women who check in the media at the stadium. He had taken a group photo and given each of them copies.

At ninety he remains active, albeit slower at times. Working with his brother and Joanne Ackerman, he continues his stadium, fine art, and commercial photography. His photo prints and coffee table books are sold at the MDen and online at dalefishergalleries.com.

Presently, he’s working on a brief, humorous book set in Michigan Stadium. “It will be out of the ordinary,” he smiles. “People all having a great time! This will be fun, nothing but fun!”

The working title: Tailgate Nonsense and Other Stuff.