Through the lens: Photographer Kirk Keeler says we should pay attention to ‘inner intuitive presence’
Special to The Union
It’s not often that a photographer moves here from a world-class destination such as Yosemite.
But that’s exactly what Kirk Keeler has done. With the move, he’s brought a novel perspective based on bringing two art forms together, music and photography.
“Listening to light” may initially not make sense, but with Kirk’s explanation it becomes a guideline to a deeper understanding of photography. Especially with nature photography, Kirk says we should pay attention to our “inner intuitive presence” as we move through the outdoor visual world being quiet as we “listen” for the photo opportunity. This guideline has served Kirk well as an award-winning professional photographer with close ties to Ansel Adams’ legacy.
Music was the precursor to Kirk’s art when he took piano lessons at a young age. The lessons planted the seed for being a musician, providing a springboard to mastering the guitar while in high school in Calistoga. With music instruction, Kirk developed an appreciation and the “tools” for musicianship before he was 16. Although it was music that launched him into nearby Sonoma State University, he studied geology and environmental science with music as a pastime. Kirk says: “SSU was an inspiring place to allow song writing and music to be nurtured into my life.” But there’s nothing like an Outward Bound course for a career boost, and the course solidified his commitment to being a musician. Later, Outward Bound turned into ‘upward bound’ when he became a serious rock climber, an adventuresome sport. He notes climbing was a questionable pursuit because of the wear and tear on his “guitar hands”. When the Great Recession soured his music business, he began to turn toward photography.
As is often the case during college, learning leads to expanded interests. Kirk discovered the renowned National Geographic photographer Galen Rowell’s books, especially “The Yosemite” with words by John Muir (a “mountain man” known as the father of the national parks). The awesome beauty that Rowell captured in his landscape photos excited a photographic fervor that changed Kirk’s life. This photo by Kirk — “Mt. Ansel Adams, Lyell Fork, Merced River” — reminds us of Rowell, who was based in Bishop, and whose international presence included studying in Tibet and embracing the Tibetan philosophy of serenity.
Kirk’s mindset of peace and serenity was apparent in his photography as he traversed the Sierra while supporting himself through post-recession times with odd jobs. His photographic mindset is illustrated by “Ice Pattern on High Sierra Pond” (near Bishop), which was juried into the international 2020 SYRCL Wild and Scenic Film Festival based in Nevada City.
With Kirk’s music business dwindling and his athletic predilection, he moved to Yosemite in 2010 to be immersed in the nature he loved. Biking, hiking and climbing with camera in hand — who could resist beauty as in his photo, “Last Light,” an iconic scene in Yosemite.
As if the scenery wasn’t enough inspiration, Kirk frequented the Ansel Adams Gallery, leading him to produce “Black Oak Blizzard Yosemite Valley” in the spirit of Ansel Adam’s legendary work. Through his intense interest in the photography community in the Valley, he met Michael Frye, one of the famous resident photographers of Yosemite. Kirk says: “I got the photo bug and bugged Frye,” who then invited Kirk to his studio to do Photoshop and other photo post-processing work.
With talent as well as tenacity, Kirk landed the position of staff photographer for the Ansel Adams Gallery, a remarkable achievement for the new guy in the Valley. Kirk says persistent presence at the Gallery led Kate Dewaard, manager, to hire him in 2011 — but we think it was talent. The role included education, running photography classes, leading interpretive tours, and “listening” for photo ops. With his energetic personality and mastery of photographic technology, Kirk became the workshop coordinator for the gallery from 2013 to 2019, facilitating half-day to five-day workshops with photographers like Michael Frye and Keith Walklet. Yosemite and the gallery are meccas for photographers from around the world, providing Kirk with some outstanding students.
The New Business in Town
Never one to stand still, Kirk had strong motivation to move to Nevada City from his fiancé, friends, and the outstanding artistic community — to say nothing of the scenery. He calls our area an “epicenter of photography and cycling.” While photograph sales generate income, Kirk will focus on workshops with a special flare — “listening to light,” which we are sure he was doing when he caught this spectacular shot, “Lightening Over Mono Lake.”
It will be a while before his repertoire expands to include more of Nevada County — his website currently has spectacular work from Yosemite, the Eastern Sierra and abroad. We particularly like this shot having not known the name of the athletic action before: “Racer Bunnyhopping a Barrier,” part of Cyclocross bike racing. As he notes on his website, he got published internationally traveling to Bogense, Denmark, for the Cyclocross World Championships in February 2019, and photographing for Bay Area-based Cyclocross Magazine.
While Kirk settles into the area and an exquisitely remodeled country home, we can continue to enjoy his “listening” for photo ops. Often competition drives capturing the extraordinary photo. It’s not unusual to get to a well-known photographic hot spot and find a crowd of competitive photographers loaded with equipment and “working the scene.” This photo, “Horsetail Fall in Yosemite,” is not only of a popular scene, but it is perfectly timed. When the setting sun light hits the falls just right, it appears to burst into flames. Kirk “listened” and also caught the glowing mist drifting over the sheer rock face.
Look for Kirk’s courses at http://www.kirkkeeler.com where you will also “hear” photos of serene settings like his photo entitled “Sunset Clouds Reflected in Pond, Tuolumne Meadows,” with echoes of Galen Rowell and Ansel Adams.
Jim Bair is a regular contributor to The Union. He currently has work in three photographic shows, The Meyers Investment Group (360 Sierra College Blvd., Grass Valley), Nevada City Picture Framing with the Nevada County Camera Club (517 Searls Ave., Nevada City), and the Albert Einstein Residence Center (Sacramento). Learn more at http://www.jimbairphotography.com.
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