Interview With Colorado Photographer Wayne Keene Part II
When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.
When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
― Ansel Adams
READ INTERVIEW PART I
MJ: Welcome to Day #2 With Wayne Keene!
MJ: I interviewed you based on your black and white images which remind me of Ansel. Have you heard this before?
W.K.: A friend of mine, a good photographer, told me that I had mastered the Ansel Adams style. Maybe, maybe not. Some of my photography friends call me Ansel to tease me. I want to wriggle out of that because Ansel was a great human being besides being the iconic photographer of the American West. His work in the preservation of wild places is monumental. But I coined the term “Anselesque” to describe a black and white image that captures the similar drama and tonal values that Ansel was able to achieve. When Ansel died, the Tucson paper published a cartoon of Ansel in Yosemite valley: he was as tall as El Capitan. A tiny figure was labeled Reagan and the caption said “scale true to the size of the man.” When we got married, my wife gave me a framed, matted, reproduction print of Moonrise Over Hernandez. It hangs in my office/study. A classmate from nursing school was from Monterey and her parents were friends with Ansel & Virginia; she literally grew up around them, and owns 3 signed prints. She told me once “If Ansel saw your photography, it would make him smile.” I take that to mean that he would see his unmistakable influence.
M.J.: I can’t think of anyone more compelling to be compared to, both artistically, as well as who he was as a human. He was a sage to be sure. He gifted us his work, and if you read his quotes and study him as a person, he was unbelievably hard-working (as you are,) dedicated, and passionate about the environment. Without individuals like Ansel, we would not have preserved all of the national park spaces that are so sacred and accessible to all. He picked up the torch from the hands of John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Catlin, William Henry Jackson, and Theodore Roosevelt.
M.J.: What was your career focus aside from continuing to shoot photography?
W.K.: I was an R.N., and when I was 37, I was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service. The USPHS is a uniformed service (Dr. Anthony Fauci is a retired PHS rear admiral), so I had military rank, privileges, retirement, etc. I spent most of my career in Indian Health Service in AZ and NM. I was an E.R. nurse for 11 of those years, and I have a M.S. in Safety, Homeland Security and Emergency Management. I loved my career and helping people: I do not miss the stress and responsibility; photography and hiking were an outlet for me. I miss the meaningfulness of my career, the unbelievable privilege of taking care of Native people for 28 years, and the fantastic, incredible people with whom I had worked. I feel proud that I could make a difference to so many people as an RN. I never thought about quitting my career as a nurse to be an artist however.
M.J.: You found a balance between service, artistry, and creativity. That is the highest we can hope for.
Please speak about your fascination and love of the Grand Canyon?
W.K.: Since 1974 when I did my first backpack in The Canyon, I’ve had a love affair. I did a lot of backpacking trips in The Canyon lugging heavy camera equipment. I did a January backpack trip on the full moon in Grand Canyon or Marble Canyon for 15 or 16 years, a couple of river trips. I once did a 10-mile hike at night on the Tonto Plateau, in January, during a full moon. During a full lunar eclipse. There may have been a mood-altering substance involved. For a while, I was a public health nurse responsible for a triangle 70 miles on a side bounded by US 89, the little Colorado, and the main Colorado river with the westernmost point being the mouth of The Canyon. And a lot of trips to the rims.
The Grand Canyon has to be one of the most challenging places to photograph. I think it took me many years before I made what I think was a good photograph. Now it is not hard for me, but I think it took me 20 years to figure it out.
I worked on reservations for 23 of my 28 years in IHS (though for 17 years, I lived in Cortez, CO, and commuted to Shiprock, NM, 41 miles). While I was married to a native woman and my daughters are half Navajo, I took few photographs of Native people other than portraits of families and children. Many natives do NOT like to have their pictures taken. Period. I respected that.
M.J.: Yes, when I was studying in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University as a photojournalism student, I ran into that challenge.
Coming into the present, what are you working on photographically?
W.K.: The project I’m involved in now, I call, “Collateral Beauty”. I find the rise of fascism (especially after my 28 months in Germany), the inhumanity of Trump and wrecking ball approach to government, the rise of racism, and the dilemmas posed by COVID to be appalling. I took three oaths of office to uphold the constitution. It may seem unbelievable to some, but a progressive like myself can really believe that duty, honor, country, family, service, and a spiritual life never go out of style, and make a life based on that.
My practice is to post from my archives 10 pictures a day on my Facebook home, and the same 10 on a F.B. page called Edward Abbey Matters with my goal to post 10 good pictures a day for a year (b&w AND color). I want to share the beauty that persists in the natural world despite Trump, McConnell, and those who are set on destroying nature. So far, this project has been fun. I’m not sure I have 3650 good photos (I may be close but I’ll make some more this year). In the last 5 months, I’ve made 120 b&w’s I think are solid; I stay busy with photography. I have a bedrock belief that nature is infinite. How can it not be? I’ll never exhaust the possibilities in a lifetime. There’s a quote out there that “my favorite photo is my next one.”
Thank you so much Molly for visiting with me. You’re a great interviewer and it’s been fun!
M.J.: My pleasure!.
Both your words and images help paint the details of an extraordinary life. You have been gifted with so much experience in the canyons and vast sceneries of this Grand Earth. You dwell in the heavens, with both feet on the ground.
Best to you Wayne.