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A positive perspective

Kerry Howard's experiment to take a photo a day stretches into lifetime habit

Posted: February 21, 2013 - 1:01am
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A solitary maple leaf.  Photo by Kerry Howard
Photo by Kerry Howard
A solitary maple leaf.

Photographer Kerry Howard vividly remembers her first camera: a blocky little Kodak Brownie she received in second grade. She remembers the mystery of loading the film into the camera, and the anticipation and surprise of getting it developed – emotions today’s young photographers know nothing of, and that Howard still misses at times.

“God, I wish I still had that camera,” Howard said over coffee last week.

She’s come a long way from that Brownie, now shooting with a complicated digital single-lens reflex camera, but she’s recently rediscovered her childhood enthusiasm for the craft -- and for the mystery of transformation and revelation the artform involves.

Loyal readers of the Empire’s Arts and Culture and Outdoors sections will easily recognize Howard’s name: she’s a weekly, sometimes multiple contributor to the Art in Unusual Places and Wild Shots photo features. This week she was also the featured speaker at the Wildlife Wednesday presentation at UAS, an invitation that arose from Alaska Wildlife Alliance president Tina Brown’s appreciation of her photos. She’s also recently begun shooting animal portraits for the Gastineau Humane Society’s adoptions.

Howard, a biologist who worked for many years in natural resources management, said animals are one among many subjects she likes to shoot. She goes out with her camera every day, keeping her eyes open for an interesting shot – whether it be of people, wildlife, or a rain splattered guard rail.

“I just go out with the blank slate of my camera, whatever I see that moves me,” she said.

Photography was an early love, inspired by her mother, an avid hobbyist. After Howard lost her mother when she was still very young, photography faded into the background.

“My mom died when I was a kid,” she said. “I think we would have had that shared interest had she lived.”

Howard picked up a camera again in college but it remained a casual activity until an idea for a photo documentation project returned it to a place of importance in her life.

“Probably the turning point for me really came back in the year 2000. I decided ‘I’m going to take a photo a day to document life at the turn of the century.’ I called it ‘photo a day for Y2K.’ So every day I would just take one photo. ... and I haven’t been able to stop. I’ve been taking a photo a day for Y2K for 14 years.” She laughed.

Since her retirement in 2011, she’s been taking a lot more than one. She spends part of every day – rain, snow, slush and Taku winds notwithstanding – out with her camera, a ritual she counts among the most important in her life.

“That’s one thing I made a conscious decision about, I thought when I retire I want to spend more time outside. So now I go out every day for at least an hour for a good walk with my camera. It’s been such a joy to have that renewing experience outside.”

Favorite spots even in lousy weather include the Auke Lake Trail and Auke Rec beaches, both fairly close to her home at 17 mile. The wetlands are another hot spot. She also regularly hikes with the Parks and Recreation Wednesday hiking group.

Last year, she joined the Juneau Photo Group, a local organization she said has been hugely helpful in taking her work to the next level. Howard said she loves the generosity, friendship and support of the other members and the inspiration she gets through shared ideas.

“It’s a real diverse assemblage of people that are so willing and generous about sharing their knowledge and time,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot.”

The group will be putting up their second consecutive First Friday show on March 1. Called “Double Exposure,” a reference to the fact that they’ll be showing in two locations on the same night, the exhibit will open at the KTOO studios, where it will remain for the month, and also at the old Alaska Litho storefront on Seward Street, which is a one-night-only show. The Seward Street location hosted the Feb. 1 show as well.

Howard said her contribution will probably be six paired pieces.

“I decided to compare and contrast one that’s something you’d see normally with your eye and then a macro of something similar. So I have a photo of some crossbills that I’m showing and then the other one is the chest feathers of the crossbill up close.”

Howard got her bachelor’s degree in environmental biology from the University of Colorado in 1976, and her master’s in Forest Ecology from Oregon State University. She later got a second master’s in Public Administration of Natural Resource Management at the University of Alaska Southeast.

An Alaskan since 1981, one of her first jobs was overseeing a tree planting operation on Prince of Wales island for Sealaska. Upon her retirement in 2011, she was Director of the Habitat Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, a job she had held for the previous eight years.

Retirement gave a big boost to her photography habit “for three reasons: more time, more opportunity, and I got myself a better camera.”

She uses all manual settings on her digital single-lens reflex, and tries not to spend much time on post-production.

“I like to do as little as possible,” she said. “You could spend hours trying to tweak any individual photo. And that’s not why I do it. I do it because I want to be outside with my camera. I don’t want to spend my life sitting in front of the computer. I did that enough when I was working.”

Learning to use the single-lens reflex camera has been challenging, she said, so she often writes down combinations for photo settings that have worked for her in the past.

“If I hit on a recipe for a certain photo condition that I like, I write it down. I have a little notebook where I have a recipe for full moon shots. ... and for photographing nervous animals under florescent lights (at GHS).”

She doesn’t sell her work, preferring just to share it on the Juneau Photo Group’s Facebook page, in the Empire and, most recently, on her blog, “Picture Perfect Moments.”

“I do it because I love it,” Howard said. “It’s really wonderful when you run into someone on the street and they say, ‘Oh man, I love that shot of Mendenhall Towers,’ or ‘Oh, you really made my day when you posted that photo of the humpback whale.’ I just love sharing my photos with people.”

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