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Capturing the calm

With shadowed black-and-white images of calm religious moments and haunting reflections, Richard Murai’s work shows his photographic prowess.

The Penn Valley resident who has taught photography at Yuba College for almost 30 years is steering his world of images into the public realm. This includes a recent appearance in LensWork Magazine, photos on exhibit at the Mowen Solinsky Gallery in Nevada City and an upcoming dual show with a student in Marysville.

“His work is very expressive,” said Steve Solinsky of Mowen Solinsky Gallery. “He expresses moods and feelings in the images he gathers.”



Murai’s experience stems from growing up as a Catholic Japanese-American amid the Vietnam War protest and strife of the University of California, Berkeley, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

He turned to photography during high school “in a quest to understand all the things that were going on,” he said. “At that time, we were going to sit-ins instead of class.”




With his mother’s Nikon in hand, Murai started learning through a photography center at the local YMCA.

“It sustained me spiritually and creatively,” said Murai, now 54.

He dabbled in photojournalism while at San Francisco State, but he soon had to decide between newspaper photography and fine art.

At a newspaper, “you were told what to do and how to crop, and I butted heads with them,” Murai said. Earning his masters degree, he turned to teaching and went to Yuba College for an expected two-year experience that turned into three decades.

Looking to heaven

Teaching pays the bills, but it also has been a great way to go about life, Murai said.

“I always tell my students, ‘If you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not work,” he said.

Murai also enjoys travel and taking a small amount of equipment to a far-off country, where he captures people in their religious elements.

“The interest in religion has always been there,” Murai said, stemming from his formative years in Catholic schools and general intellectual interest. It is also one of two “life works,” one being blue collar workers and the other “religious movements, spiritual-based visual trappings.”

The religious work has dominated recent years, and he has fulfilled it in Tibet, Myanmar, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, India, Peru, Europe and the United States, where he spent several years developing a show around Pentecostals in the East Bay.

“I’m photographing people within their structures, and I try to find places of devotion and prayer,” Murai said. “It’s the grandeur and grandiose attempt to get to heaven.”

With a one-year sabbatical coming up, Murai is thinking about embarking on a new project about Mormons. But his travels also will take him to Bhutan, Easter Island, Jordan and Israel to shoot whatever moves him.

More travel on horizon

He carries one bag with a tripod, camera and essential lenses, preferring the wide angle to tell the stories.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people don’t object being photographed, if you have the right intention,” Murai said. “If you’re positive, people feel that.”

He also gives people instant shots of themselves as a present. It’s the first image many people have ever seen of themselves in the underdeveloped countries where he travels.

Murai would like continue traveling and taking photographs when he retires. He hopes to build a body of work he can show to many galleries.

“It’s extremely difficulty getting into galleries now,” Murai said. “Everybody wants Ansel Adams.”

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

On exhibit

• Mowen Solinsky Gallery, 225 Broad St., Nevada City. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sundays, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Yuba-Sutter Regional Arts Council, 624 E St., Marysville, Nov. 2 through Nov. 30; open Tuesdays, Wednesday and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Artist’s reception, 6 to 8 p.m., Nov. 2.

On the cover

“Sunrise from Bule Thee Paya,” taken in Bagan, Myanmar, in 2004

“Prayer and Devotion,” taken at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet, in 2006.


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