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WORKING FOR THE WILDERNESS: Bainbridge-based photographer lends a lens to a worthy cause
The history of artists working for environmental conservation in this country features many interesting characters.
In the late 1800s, more than a century before every citizen over the age of 12 would carry a camera in their pocket, it was the sketches of Thomas Moran that arguably assured the creation of our nation’s first national park: Yellowstone.
There is also the legendary John James Audubon and his infamously obsessive endeavor to observe and paint every type of American bird for his pioneering color-plate serial book “The Birds of America.”
Years later, photographic pioneers like George Fiske, and then Ansel Adams, would venture into the wild and bring back with them images that ignited the imagination and the passions of a nation — and gave rise to a new level of environmental consciousness.
Though the globe of today is more thoroughly documented than ever before, there remains a desire within a great many visual artists to document and preserve the natural world, and to use those images to inspire.
Making his own contributions to the history of conservation-minded art is Bainbridge Island-based image-maker Steven Fey, who has captured countless scenes of natural beauty both in Western Washington and throughout the country, and often lends his talents to support conservation efforts including the current Washington Wild initiatives.
“I guess I’ve spent years and years and years enjoying the woods without the perception that we’ve had much to give back in terms of either money or support or time,” Fey explained, discussing his decision to become involved.
“So, as soon as we opened this gallery in Belltown 10 years ago, we started looking around for philanthropy opportunities because we thought they would be a good platform to do that. My wife and I started looking around at what we could contribute using the gallery and where, so this was an obvious no-brainer for us to kind of get involved with some of these conservation campaigns.”
Among his favorite causes to support, Fey said, is Washington Wild.
Washington Wild protects and restores wild lands and waters throughout Washington state through advocacy, education and civic engagement. First founded in 1979, it is a nonprofit organization that brings concerned people together in the defense and preservation of our state’s remaining wild forests, waters and wildlife. The group originally became widely known in 1984 when they effectively raised the public awareness and support necessary to pass the Washington Wilderness Act, which protected more than 1 million acres of natural wilderness.
Lately, Fey said, he has been primarily contributing images to help raise awareness for the Wild Olympics Proposal.
From the Washington Wild website, “Washington Wild is a founding member of the Wild Olympics
Campaign, a coalition working to protect watersheds on the Olympic Peninsula through new wilderness and wild and scenic river designations. After three years of extensive public process, stakeholder input and addressed issues, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Norm Dicks introduced the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act on June 21, 2012.
“On Jan. 16, 2014 the legislation was reintroduced into Congress by Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer. If passed, the bill would designate the first new wilderness areas on Olympic National Forest in three decades, and the first ever wild and scenic river designations.”
“Basically, I go out and make a few images,” Fey explained. “And then I basically give them the rights to use the images for whatever promotional purpose they can. So they end up in magazines, press releases, the front page of the Seattle Times [and] the Washington Post.”
Also, Fey explained, he uses his gallery as a sort of information center for current conservation efforts with a table dedicated to informational literature, in addition to numerous prints on permanent display.
During future Art Walks, he said, Washington Wild representatives will be on hand to discuss current initiatives.
Fey, who relocated his gallery to downtown Winslow from Seattle just over a year ago, said he has been an avid outdoorsman for most of his life and that it was his love of nature from an early age that eventually brought him to photography.
He first developed his passion for the natural landscape 35 years ago as an avid hiker and mountain climber. He started photographing favorite landscapes in the western U.S. and Canada with 35mm cameras. As his interest and skills grew, he graduated to large format cameras, allowing him to make very large prints showing unparalleled range, depth and detail.
Photography as a medium, Fey explained, is uniquely qualified to convey nuance and detail to an audience, making it perfect for advocacy work — be it for humanitarian or conservation goals.
“One of the powers of imagery is to convey the sense of place,” he explained, “which is partly visual and partly emotional, to people who otherwise would not have that. So I think the images are important.”
Only by making someone truly feel as if they’ve seen a place, a place perhaps they will never actually be able to visit, Fey explained, can you make them care about what happens to it.
“A picture’s worth a thousand words,” Fey laughed. “There’s some history here. Years ago, the first National Park was Yellowstone, and Yellowstone was documented prior to its National Park status by some of the greatest American landscape painters — particularly Thomas Moran. So, in those days there was no media. It took six months to get across the country, if you were lucky, and so many of those early American classic landscape painters’ works found their way back to Washington at the time that the National Park bills were going through.”
“Part of that philosophy still exists,” Fey said. “In the sense that America is still pretty regional, and people on the East Coast don’t really have the look, feel and the sense of place that people out here do with regards to the natural environment. Yet they’re voters, and if it goes through Congress they have to vote for it.”
Fey is an entirely self-taught photographer who still uses his beloved large format cameras, film and a traditional development process. He makes all of his own prints, speaks fondly of enlargers and darkroom chemicals, and can easily talk anyone interested through an introduction to the Zone System.
“I like all of the zones,” he explained. “I like to see all of the zones in an image. I like to see parts where there’s highlights, I like to see black areas. I like to see some of the grays, semi-translucent areas.”
To learn more about Steven Fey’s work and downtown Winslow gallery, visit www.stevenfeyphotography.com, or call 206-451-4606.
To learn more about the Wild Olympics Campaign and other Washington Wild initiatives, visit www.wawild.org, or stop by Fey’s gallery (278 Winslow Way, Suite 203).
Eye on nature
What: Exhibition of landscape images by Steven Fey to promote awareness for Washington Wild’s Wild Olympics proposal.
When: Regular gallery hours daily, special informational meeting and social reception during First Friday Art Walk from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5.
Where: The Steven Fey Gallery (278 Winslow Way, Suite 203).