How photographer Charley Gurche looks to capture the world around him.
Charley Gurche is tall, and lean, and travels widely with a professional camera and a banjo. Even more than his thick, and still dark hair, it’s his humor and sense of wonder that allows one to accept the ease with which he has gotten to be sixty years old without seeming to have aged past his teens.
The wonder, at least, translates to and through his art—the extraordinary body of work he’s created as a national award-winning landscape photographer.
As Charley described in a talk he gave at the Community Building last fall, his photography is inspired by the work of Carleton Watkins, Ansel Adams and other landscape photographers whose images energized public consciousness for conservation. Yosemite and Yellowstone are but two examples of how instrumental photography has been in building political support for protecting wild and scenic places.
But how does art and the talent to find and capture the beauty of a desert, seashore, or watershed translate into interments of politics?
In Charley’s story, his passion for nature is rooted in the woods and a creek near his boyhood home, just south of Kansas City, both of which were threatened, at times, by development schemes. As he also describes in the interview I recorded with him in June, he was discovering his love for photography at about the same time, filling albums with snapshots taken with an Instamatic camera. He still has the albums—the photos in which, he notes, “are turning blue.”
“We’d take these trips. My brother would be drawing, he’s an artist now. My sister would be reading, magazines or books or something. I couldn’t believe they weren’t looking out the windows, where all the action was! And I was just glued.”
The Gurche family car trips were, for the most part, in the midwest, through Illinois and Michigan. It really wasn’t until Charley was 18 that he experienced the western part of the country. That changed his life.
“It was so powerful,” he says, “and my passion was so powerful for what I was seeing and where I was and what I was feeling. The whole landscape just blew me away.”
In the past couple years, much of Charley’s time has been devoted to photography projects in conjunction with the Dishman Hills Conservancy, and, this year, the Spokane Riverkeeper.
His work to document the Spokane River watershed dovetails with his growing interest in the fine art creativity of nature photography, exploring a mosaic of patterns to capture images that have a more intimate and even surreal effect.
“Water is so bizarre,” he says. “I can’t believe what a weird substance it is. It’s fluid and it can be any color. It can be black, white, blue, green, clear, colors reflecting the sky. It can be any color and it can be so many different patterns too, depending on what’s happening to the surface. So it’s pretty wide open if you’re willing to just spend lots of hours going to look at little patches of water at different times of days and seasons and just look at an eight by tenfoot area of water and study it for a while and see what’s going on there. The variety is just incredible.”