Bringing out the Ansel Adams in everyone

Friday, February 10, 2006
An exhibit of nature photography by Dr. Joel Ray is on display at the Nature Campus in February. (Diane L. Wilson)

The marriage between Cape Girardeau neurosurgeon Dr. Joel Ray and the local Conservation Campus Nature Center is a rare union -- one that has great benefits for both parties.

Medical services have nothing to do with the arrangement, but photos do. Ray gets wall space to hang his nature photography for a month and deliver an intermediate-level seminar on digital nature photography. The Nature Center gets a well-known local photographer to help promote its education and outreach programs.

All through this month, 20 of Ray's digital photographs are on display at the nature center. The subject of all is nature -- from crystal clear waters flowing by the snow-covered banks of a Southern Illinois stream to a field of sunflowers, their faces open to catch the life-giving radiation of a sunny day.

As Ray explains the subjects of the pictures he's unable to give precise information. Ray thinks about several things at once in all he does -- bouncing from thought to thought and activity to activity.

With all the aspects of a photo he has to think about -- lighting, angles, etc. -- getting detailed information about his subject is one aspect of the craft he's just now starting to concentrate on.

"There are all these things to do .... I've just always chosen to take the picture," said Ray. "Now I'm finding that doing the cutline is probably the hardest part of photography."

Ray has only been taking photographs since 2000, but gained recognition locally and around the state for his shots of the construction of the Bill Emerson Bridge. For Ray the bridge was easy -- photographing wildlife is much more difficult.

Bridges don't move, said Ray, they're "something you can more or less control." Wildlife isn't as static, and is totally unpredictable.

Starting out slow is one point Ray will teach the importance of in his Feb. 18 seminar at the Nature Center. Sign-ups opened Feb. 1 for the 22-member class, and already the roster is full.

Ray and the Nature Center see the class as just a beginning to creating access to amateur digital photography.

For Ray the public's great response to the seminar confirms his belief in a large community of amateur digital photographers laying low, waiting to learn how to perfect their art.

"I'm really excited. I don't think they're there just to see me ... so that's very cool," Ray said.

Digital technology has the power to make photography more accessible, Ray said, if the amateur can learn to use the tools. For Ray the learning process took years and is still ongoing -- but he hopes to make the process easier for others.

"It's like you have all these Ansel Adamses out there, but you have to be a geek," he said.

At the seminar Ray plans to unveil the new Westray Photography Web site. He hopes the sight will be a resource for do-it-yourself digital photographers where they can learn things like editing and printing. He hopes to start a revolution of sorts.

Through the Westray Foundation he also hopes to raise money to buy small digital cameras for children to participate in another Nature Center workshop in April. The photos will be exhibited at the center in May.

April Dozier with the Missouri Department of Conservation said the programs with Ray are part of an ongoing effort to expand the center's educational power with art. The center has already presented nature painting and a duck stamp contest for children. Another program had participants writing nature journals.

"By doing these things, we may be getting a different group of people to the center who haven't been there before," said Dozier.

The grounds around the nature center make a great place for nature art, with a variety of habitats like the rare sand prairie.

"Art is just one aspect of our mission," Dozier said.

In April the Nature Center will also present a discussion with local photographer Tom Neumeyer.

335-6611, extension 182

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