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John Bressie picked up a camera as a kid at Analy High in Sebastopol in the 1950s and never set it down.

For the past three decades, the professional photographer worked as a precise and respected adjunct member of the Art Department faculty at Santa Rosa Junior College. Before that, Bressie sold cameras and taught classes at the former Unruh's camera store.

He died Wednesday in Santa Rosa following a battle with cancer. He was 76.

Sean Bressie, also of Santa Rosa, said his father enriched the lives of the thousands of people he introduced to photography or helped to produce better shots.

"I think that's one of the largest impacts he's had — all the photographers he's inspired and taught," said the younger Bressie.

Among his father's adventures in life was the cross-country bicycle ride he took with friend and fellow photography student Thaine Manske — both of them pedaling three-speed Raleighs — in 1957.

"We had 21 flat tires and crossed seven major mountain ranges," Manske said Thursday from his home in Houston. "It was great. He was a good guy."

In 1962, Bressie landed a gig as an extra on the set of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." He captured memorable behind-the-scenes shots in Bodega and Bodega Bay; some adorn popular greeting cards at Bodega's Landmark Gallery.

Among Bressie's former students at SRJC are professional photographers who credit him with helping them to comprehend and master the technical aspects of the art.

Photo-calendar creator Robert Janover said he'd already published a national landscape calendar when he enrolled in Bressie's creative portraiture class in the late 1980s.

"I knew natural light," said Janover, who just published his 20th Sonoma County picture and events calendar. "I didn't know anything about people pictures.

"What I got from him was the understanding of how to create the light for portraits."

Janover added that Bressie "was a technical stickler. He was a disciplinarian. People definitely learned the proper way to do things from him."

Santa Rosa commercial and wedding photographer Bob Stender recalls that "one of the best classes I ever took" was a JC course Bressie taught.

"He was a great guy and a lot of fun to be around, and a great teacher," said Stender. For years, Bressie printed photos in a darkroom that he'd created at Stender's South A Street studio.

Another former student, James Blue, works now as a video specialist with SRJC's Media Service Department.

Bressie "was particularly important to me," Blue said. He recalls having no significant interest in portraiture until Bressie opened his eyes to what proper lighting and shadow can do to a photograph of a person.

A native of Berkeley, Bressie spent some of the best years of his childhood at his family's home at Salmon Creek, north of Bodega Bay.

He was already an accomplished photographer when he graduated from Analy High in 1954. He studied at SRJC and then at the Art Center School of Design in Pasadena.

Following the cycling adventure from San Francisco to New York City, Bressie studied writing at Instituto Allende in Mexico. He then became a commercial photographer in San Francisco.

In the early 1970s, Bressie took a job in the camera store Bill Unruh had opened in Santa Rosa. John Fleming was already working there.

"I got to know John as an exquisite photographer," Fleming said. "He paid absolute attention to detail."

At Unruh's, Bressie began teaching photography in addition to selling camera equipment. He became an adjunct professor at Santa Rosa Junior College in the early 1980s and was still teaching when he became ill with cancer earlier this year.

His wife, Jeannine, was with him when he died at their home Wednesday morning.

In addition to his wife and son in Santa Rosa, Bressie is survived by his daughter, Mackensie Ashton of Santa Rosa; his stepchildren, Michelle Haviland of Healdsburg and Thomas Binkley of Herndon, Va; his first wife, Elizabeth Montgomery of Sebastopol; his siblings, Mary Anne Kursa of Bodega and Elbert Bressie of Belvedere; and two granddaughters.

A collection of his photographs will be displayed at a memorial service at 3p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at Daniels Chapel of the Roses in Santa Rosa.