Through the Lens: What do a photographer and a pharmacist have in common?
Special to The Union
Jerry Berry came to California at such a young age that he’s practically a native, even though he still has family roots back in Iowa, which now looks like a different country.
The early move to California enabled him to fall in love with the outdoors and live and learn near Sequoia National Park. What he learned gave him a rewarding career as a pharmacist for over 38 years, a profession where precision is paramount.
His last career position was at Sutter Auburn Faith, initially as a staff pharmacist and later adding computer system duties to address the ever-increasing role of computers in drug dispensing in the mid-80s.
Moving to Meadow Vista in 1980, he and his wife raised two daughters and rebuilt a house in their spare time. Jerry’s athletic strength served him well as a DIY home builder. Although photography was an interest, family, job and house monopolized his life. However, he managed to borrow an SLR (single lens reflex) for a backpacking trip and later gave himself an SLR (Nikon F2) as a present.
Some of his most memorable captures on film are from a getaway to Africa — Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe — leaving him with lots of film, some of which he digitized, such as Elephant Yoga (1986).
Jerry talks about a favorite early photo, Grand Canyon (1975), which features a tree rather than the traditional canyon view. He’s revisited that tree over the years rendering a lengthy time-lapse experience. Having a darkroom remained a dream, but like many of us early amateurs, he shot slide film (35mm). So, what does one do with thousands of slides? (Keep them in boxes …).
Jerry did receive some encouragement when a photo of roadside poppies in Auburn was submitted to The Union in the early 1980s and it was published.
EARLY TO DIGITAL
Jerry’s superlative creativity began to emerge in 1994. While most of us were happy shooting film, Jerry experimented with a QuickTake, the first digital camera introduced by Apple. Like many “firsts” it was too small to use for prints (1 megapixel). But photography was changing fast and being right on top of it in 2004, Jerry got the first DLSR (digital single lens reflex), a Nikon D2H. The camera was small (4 megapixels) and expensive, but it could be used for prints sized up to 8×10.
As we would expect from someone with creative intensity, Jerry traveled. A trip to Alaska focused on how to use the huge number of features in the new digital system. He tried “automatic” for starters but soon switched to “manual” for creative control.
While mastering the seemingly endless features he pursued sports (fast shooting), outdoors (sun lighting…), landscapes (time of day) and wildlife (patience please). With Jerry, technology was limiting his creativity so he kept up with new cameras, lens, etc., and around 2006, he got a camera (Nikon D2X) that provided the resolution he needed for printing (12 mega pixels).
PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF
Along with creativity and precision, Jerry has persistence. His persistence paid off massively when he discovered the website 1x.com. The site runs out of Sweden to gather the best photography in the world in one “place.” Such a grand idea invites skepticism, but the site does display the work of 16,000 photographers from 130 countries. The key is curation, where proven pros review each photo submitted by members for publication.
Curators may provide feedback, or just say no. In the end, photos that pass review are published to a world-wide audience for purchase as well as sharing.
In 2007, Jerry tried and tried again to publish in 1x.com. He was so persistent that curators, wherever they were in the world, began interacting with him. Finally, an image caught their attention, and Butterflies in Disguise was published.
The photo demonstrates that Jerry had become quite expert with Adobe Photoshop, the premier photo editing software, which he says made the difference. (“Photoshopping” has even become a verb often seen in the news.) In this case, Photoshop enabled him to make dogwood flowers stand out from a dogwood tree and add the effect on the trees (using vertical filters). The disguise worked — the flowers make perfect butterflies. The curators said, “nu har du något” (now you have something). And we have something — techniques that can turn a photograph into art.
His work continued to grow, becoming stunningly artful and, against serious competition, he was invited to be one of the curators of 1x.com, which is an international online community. While photographer members can follow other photographers and communicate, only a few of the best can become curators. Members are often amazed upon receiving a comment from photographers in faraway places like Johannesburg.
FROM A DIFFERENT VIEWPOINT
Jerry’s experimentation led to increasing acceptance by online and physical galleries. He calls his evolution the “beginning of the right-brain” approach to photography. While the left-brain orientation led to impressive successes like being the curator of a show for the leading photography gallery in the region, Viewpoint Gallery in Sacramento, his right-brain created whole new approaches to photo art.
For example, Jerry has composed photos using shots of smoke as mystical Zen-like elements to create photo paintings. In a photo titled Geisha Moonlight smoke resembles a Geisha in a traditional oriental setting. Although Jerry generously shared his innovative technique and creativity with the Nevada County Camera Club, showing how he generates smoke without burning down the garage, the technique remains uniquely his. Here’s another example, Smoke Falls — use your imagination — that reminds us of Chinese brush painting. The Viewpoint Gallery not only curates “wall shows,” but it also enabled Jerry to publish six yearbooks of photos selected from 1x.com.
While Jerry embraces all photography genres, from landscape to abstract, he notes a fundamental transition in his growth as a photographer. He started in photography by perfecting his craft, the left-brain or technology mastery, which he notes is the focus of the Nevada County Camera Club as well as PSA (Photographic Society of America). One example is Slippery When Wet, which uses long exposure, a well-known technique. By contrast, in the spirit of 1x.com, his right-brain has inspired photos like Dye Landscape. This was done by photographing dye ink on water, then overlaying an image of a flock of birds to provide a touch of realism.
Jerry doesn’t argue about what photographic art is, but he knows it when he sees it. Participating in the artsy international community gave him a strong sense that photography can be art. Artistry requires experimentation to discover what the photo will be.
For example, in Dye Landscape the ink crystals dropped into water dissolve and move in uncertain ways across the water’s surface.
A different technique, blurring, is more deliberate and more easily done. Following the bicycle racer’s movement by panning with his camera creates a blur that shows movement in Eric Heiden, taken at the Nevada City Classic in the early 1980s. The image would be much less interesting if he used a fast shutter speed to stop motion.
But as the pros know, there’s a catch. If the blur looks unintentional, it is perceived as a mistake — the same for photo elements that are out of focus. Jerry notes how subjective photographic art is. The Elephant Yoga photo illustrates a significant area of subjectivity, depth-of-field. Notice how the grassy foreground is out of focus, even though the elephant is relatively sharp. The critic can say, that’s fine, because the subject and surrounding trees are in focus so that the bright grass becomes unimportant. Critics in camera clubs often note foreground/background softness (blurriness) as something to be fixed. Alas, it all points back to subjectivity and whether or not the focus or something else was a mistake or a stroke of art.
ART AND RULES
Jerry believes that photographers should learn the rules first — the left-brain mastery. He says, “The most effective pictures are usually those that broke the rules.”
For example, having too much negative space is undesirable except when it adds to the photo’s impact and uniqueness.
For example, in Sands of Time, the red toned rocks in the slot canyon (Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona) would have been beautiful as seen in thousands of photos, but Jerry inverted the photo (black became white). The result is a lot of white negative space creating abstract beauty and showing that sometimes, more is less.
Jerry notes that photos by the rules risk being redundant, becoming clichés in the flood of photos in today’s digital world. We have described some of Jerry’s insight, artistry and mastery, but talk with him and you realize there’s more, much more, than the question, “what is photo art?” For example, are highly successful photos more likely from emergent discovery, or preplanned with hours and days of preparation (usual in studios or outdoor locales)?
THERE ARE RULES AND THEN …
There is wisdom that underlies the rules. Foremost is how a print of a shot differs from its display on a screen, often an unwelcome surprise to evolving photographers in today’s everything-on-a-screen world. Jerry confronted this early on is his photo life, especially when the first digital cameras didn’t provide enough resolution to print acceptably.
Photos begin on a camera viewer and then are displayed on a computer screen which are the sources of light. A print is seen with reflected light — completely different. Often desirable photos on a screen are unworkable as prints. Jerry considered learning how to print fundamental to becoming a photographer. He also knew early on that technology does matter and it’s why photographers chat about camera models, optics, etc.; often debating.
For example, should a photographer get the largest camera sensor size feasible, like 42 megapixels and up? Or, is editing (post processing) photos using tools like Photoshop necessary? Jerry’s practice is to use a lot of post processing – but it’s vision that counts in the end.
To summarize, Jerry says, “Technology is just a tool. Good images are made, not taken. Good food is not just thrown into expensive cookware and coming out tasteful. It requires someone with experience and knowledge to create it; someone that has studied the nuances of spices and flavors with a dash of refrain.”
The way to experience Jerry’s wisdom and artistic vision is in the flesh, as well as in the print. He’ll continue to be at venues such as Viewpoint Gallery in Sacramento, Studio 125 in Nevada City, the Nevada County Camera Club monthly meeting, and digitally at jerryberry.1x.com.
Jim Bair is a member and former vice president of the Nevada County Camera Club and has some of his award-winning photos at http://www.jimbairphotography.com
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