On a crisp October morning, I ventured out of my immediate nook in the mountains, and enjoyed a golden drive along Highway 89, south, to Tahoe City. My destination was The Dam Café, its ‘Illy’ espresso sign a guiding light to a great cappuccino. The cottage next to ‘Fanny Bridge’ is cozy and bright inside, more intimate than I had imagined, and full of chattering customers. An Apple iBook rested open, temporarily abandoned, on a high table in the corner. At least one person was working in the café.
Serendipitously, the computer belonged to Tahoe’s own Keoki Flagg, accomplished artist/photographer. I say ‘serendipitously,’ firstly, because it’s a heck of a word, and secondly, because I am fascinated by photography and am taking a class, getting into a dark room for the first time since high school. (Trust me it’s been a long time.) My excitement upon approaching the well-known photographer was met equally by his enthusiasm for his work. He was the guest speaker, that very day, for a Digital Photography club for seniors, sponsored by Incline Village Parks and Recreation Department. Keoki shared some of his fantastic images with me. He was fine-tuning his presentation called ‘Find Your Photographic Voice.’
Keoki asked, ‘What is bad art?’ I visualized a lithograph I once saw at an arts and crafts fair of a bear wearing a baseball cap, waiting to use an outhouse.
‘It’s art that gets no reaction.’
He talked about how the media inundates our society with digital images which we fail to process creatively. We look at the picture for information, ‘Who? What? Where?’ and we answer, ‘A woman riding a bike on Highway 89,’ instead of connecting to it emotionally, instead of feeling the exhilaration of speeding through the canyon at daybreak. He talked about the importance of targeting a viewer’s emotion through a unique interpretation of a subject. By breaking the rules, an artist/photographer can capture a subject in a way that is original and relevant. He showed me a photograph he shot at sunrise, while parasailing backwards, one thousand feet above Lake Tahoe. He captured ‘the emotional vibration of Tahoe-blue.’
Following our conversation, I brought my children on a ‘field trip’ to Gallery Keoki, in Squaw Valley, with explicit directions to use inside voices and to keep their hands to themselves. I asked them what they felt when they looked at the photographs. They responded with,
They got Keoki’s art.
I decided to take my black and white photography class to get back to the basics when I found myself getting sloppy with my digital photography. I had been more thoughtful about my subjects, the lighting and the composition, when I had had to process the film the old fashioned way – at a one-hour photo. Digital photography affords us the gratification of seeing the image immediately, it is inexpensive (after the original investment in equipment), and there are many computer programs to edit photos that are less than fabulous. Cropping can help a weak composition, a click on an icon will get rid of devil eyes, and a grey sky can be ‘painted’ blue. (Adding shadows is challenging.)
The digital dilemma came up as a topic during Conversation Café, a club for Incline Village Seniors, which gives them a forum to discuss various global or community issues. Several members found the technology to be intimidating and owner’s manuals formidable. (How many of you actually read the owner’s manual for your fancy digital cameras?) Carl Levinson, self-proclaimed leader of the ‘militant senior group,’ decided he could help his friends gain some control over their digital cameras, and founded The Digital Photography Club. First came the basic skills like turning on the camera, but the quick group caught on and rapidly moved on to downloading their images to a computer. The club goes on shooting expeditions, near the Aspen Grove Community Center. (They walk to promote all-around healthy living,’ added Shelia Leijon, the Recreation Coordinator/Seniors at Incline Village Parks and Recreation.) On the third Thursday of the month the club enjoys free lectures by local photographers.
In his presentation, ‘Finding Your Inner Voice,’ Keoki was not trying to spare the world from more snapshots of Aunt Mildred’s cat, but was explaining how to convey one’s own feeling about the subject in a unique manner. If you hated cats, how would you show that in a photograph of your favorite aunt’s Persian friend?
Shelia recounted the encouragement she heard in Keoki’s presentation for people to seek out what they are trying to say, and added that it was ‘Inspiring.’
Now that I’m processing my own photographs, I am paying more attention to my surroundings. I am more discerning about the things I photograph, whether with my 35mm or my digital camera. Since my conversation with Keoki, I am asking myself ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ What is it about this image that I want to capture and to share, and how am I going to do that in my own way?
Keoki Flagg is the keynote speaker at the Squaw Valley Institute’s monthly cultural and educational event on Tuesday, November 28, which will be held in the Palisades Room at The Village at Squaw Valley Conference Center. The event is open to the public and tickets are $5 per person, children under 12 and students with ID are free. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the program begins at 7 p.m.
Visit www.squawvalleyinstitute.org for more information about this event.
For information about the Digital Photography Club call Incline Village Parks and Recreation 775-832-1302 or visit www.inclinerecreation.com.
To see Keoki’s artwork, log onto www.gallerykeoki.com, or visit Gallery Keoki in the Village at Squaw Valley. The gallery’s phone number is 530-583-1404.