BEMIDJI, Minn. — Ed Espe doesn’t claim to be a great photographer, but he’s pretty good.
Good enough, in fact, that one of his images is included in the latest book of stamps put out by the U.S. Postal Service.
Espe, a 68-year-old retired podiatrist, didn’t need to go very far to get the photo. He noticed a blue jay sitting on a branch outside his Lake Irving home.
“It was right outside our door,” Espe said. “We’ve enjoyed feeding birds over the years since I retired, so we have some bird feeders out there. And of course the blue jays can’t eat from the bird feeders. But I think they have an agreement with the smaller birds — the chickadees and the nuthatches — to spill a bunch. So they land on the snow and eat it.”
This particular blue jay landed in a tree. “I thought, ‘That’ll work.’ Focus, shoot, there it is,” Espe said.
When the Postal Service came out with its winter scene stamps in October, the Bemidji blue jay was included. Ten different stamps are on a double-sided pane of 20 in each book, and 400 million stamps were printed.
“I have yet to hear anything from the post office,” Espe said. “My wife went down to the post office and bought a couple of books. I am very honored by that, just to be chosen. To me it’s not really a great photo. It’s not technically great. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
Espe has been taking pictures since he was a teenager in Roseau, but he started focusing more on the hobby in 2014 when he retired.
“I can’t remember when I got my first camera,” he said. “I think it was probably one of those Instamatic cameras back in the 1960s. I just took snapshots of birthdays and family trips.”
While spending the first eight years of his podiatry practice in Owatonna, Espe took a community education class on photography. But he didn’t take the hobby too seriously until he finished the last 25 years of his career in Bemidji.
“I never claimed to be a good photographer, and still don’t,” he said. “But it’s interesting, and I still like it. When I retired I thought, ‘You know, I should probably work on that since it is an interest and I’ve enjoyed photography for years.’”
Espe is always on the lookout for things to shoot. He and his wife, Char, enjoy traveling, and he appreciates her patience and support for his hobby.
“For me it’s whatever is interesting,” he said. “Occasionally I’ll say it’s a beautiful day and I know that the state flower is blooming right now. I’ll go to a spot where there’s probably some nice lady’s slippers and take some photos. But usually it’s more that we’re on the road, we’re driving and I see something and I say, ‘Is it OK if I stop?’ And my wife has been wonderful about that. I’ll stop for a few minutes and take a photo of something she has no interest in. It’s more random than anything. Whatever happens to catch my eye, I’ll take a picture.”
“I thought that was a way somebody else could review my work,” Espe said, “because they’re not going to accept everything. And they aren’t as stringent in their reviews as an art museum. I certainly don’t claim to be an artist, but I thought at least somebody would have eyes on it and tell me if this is good enough to actually be used for some purpose.”
Shortly after the first photos were uploaded, Espe saw that a couple of them sold “for like a quarter. My wife and I looked at it and said, ‘You got a quarter for a picture. Imagine that.’ So I just continued with it.”
Espe also has posted a number of video clips to Shutterstock. Just like the photos that are uploaded, he rarely knows who buys the videos and what they are used for. But he was surprised to see one of his clips while watching an episode of the TV show “American Pickers.” It was a short video of a farm scene near Grygla.
“I’m just hoping to self-fund my hobby,” Espe said. “You need a new lens once in a while, and probably a camera will wear down and you’ll have to replace it. So I’m hoping that maybe it’ll be good enough to do that, who knows?”