In Memoriam: Robert K. McCandless (1928-2020) and Raymond Bial (1948-2021)

Champaign County lost two prominent community photographers over the holiday season, Robert K. McCandless and Raymond Bial.

Robert McCandless with former Archives Director Anke Voss, 2013Robert (Bob) K. McCandless was the owner and photographer of McCandless Photography, a studio in Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, specializing in portraits. Born in Hershey, Pennsylvania, McCandless worked at the Evening Standard in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and in the Air Force from 1951-1953 (in Korea from 1952-1953) as a public information officer. In April 1956, he joined the Urbana Courier as a photographer. In 1965, McCandless left the Courier and opened his own photography studio at Washington and Race Streets in Urbana. He moved the studio to 113 W. University Avenue in Champaign in 1974 - 1975 and moved to Lincoln Square Mall in 1983. He closed the studio in 2011.

When Bob McCandless closed the doors on his Urbana photography studio in 2011, many of his studio and outdoor images of local residents were generously donated to the Champaign County Historical Archives. The photographs (1965-2011) are an invaluable historical record of life in our community. They include images of the Urbana Police and Fire departments, the Champaign County Bar Association, members of the First Christian Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and fraternities and sororities. McCandless also served as a member of the Urbana Free Library Board of Trustees and was an active member of First Methodist Church in Champaign.

He died on Sunday, December 27, 2020, in Sagamore Hills, Ohio.

Book cover for Stopping by: portraits from small townsRaymond S. Bial was a Danville, Illinois native who moved around during his youth due to his father’s Army career, but he always appreciated rural life. “One of my fantasies when I was a kid,” he told Michael Howie in a 1992 etc.! profile, “was that I’d grow up and be a farmer.” The family returned to Danville when Bial was in eighth grade, and he finished out his high school career at Schlarman High School. He attended the University of Illinois, where he earned a B.A. in political science and history (1970) and an M.S. in library science (1979). Bial went on to become the director of the library at Parkland College.

In the mid-1970s, Bial borrowed his brother’s camera and began documenting the objects he equated with rural life that were starting to disappear – hedgerows, windmills, even the old fence rows – that were being removed to increase farming efficiency. These photographs ignited his passion for photography, and he went on to publish several books of photographs focusing on the people and objects in and around small towns. His books include pictorial histories of both Urbana and Champaign, Ivesdale, a photographic essay, Stopping by: portraits from small town, and In all my years: portraits of older Blacks in Champaign-Urbana, just to name a few. He was also a prolific author of photo essays on various topics for children, and with his daughter, Anna published several children’s novels.

Bial died on Friday, January 1, 2021, in Urbana.

- Sherrie Bowser
  Archives Librarian