Looking Through the Lens– Nick Wale Interviews Photographer Ray Zirkle

  Book Cover Ray Zirkle

Sometimes when I hang around Facebook, I meet people I really want to interview. Ray Zirkle is a guy I met a few hours ago. I interview authors and he has a book coming out. So, how do you get to meet talented guys? Send them a Facebook message and ask them over for a chat! Ray is a top photographer who has a style all of his own. Settle down to read about a really interesting guy and his photographs…

Q) Hi Ray, nice of you to join me for an interview!

A) You also. Are you in the UK? Happy New Year, by the way.

Q) I am- and thank you. You too! Ok, so Ray, tell me how did you get into photography?

A) Quite by accident. I took a job managing a one hour photo lab. I had more management experience than photo. Well, I was told, “you’ll learn” and I did! I started carrying a camera everywhere with me.

 Q) What camera did you start with?

A) A Canon AE-1 Program. Seems ancient now! I used that camera non-stop for about eight years. No, maybe five years.

Q) In reading your biography on your Facebook page, I discovered Ansel Adams was a big influence on your work. What was it about his style that inspired you?

A) I saw that first image in a photography book and was just like “WOW”. You can take a picture like that and make scenery look so beautiful? My whole outlook changed. I began to see things differently. Was it because I was purposely looking for that cool picture, or was it because I was opening up a part of me that I NEVER knew existed? I had no talent as far as I was concerned. I never took a class or lesson. I started living, breathing, and working photos.

Q) How did his use of light and shadows affect you?

A) A lot of that came later as I learned to print my own pictures. I worked part-time for an old man in the town we lived in. He taught me to print and develop film. So, I started learning to use contrast filters and make a normal image more striking. The use of infrared B/W film really changed the direction of my work because I started getting comments on the pictures such as “Oooohhh, how did you get that to look like that?”  It’s a specialty film that not everyone could use– almost gone now.

Q) When you first showed your photos publicly, what was the general reaction?

A) Well, I started small– little competitions, etc. I remember getting chosen for my first juried art show. I was thrilled. It was a two day show and the first day I didn’t sell a thing. I left disappointed and wondering what I had got myself into. The next day I came back and sold $400 worth, AND believe me, I kept them cheap! So, I sold a bunch of 8×10’s– the only size I made at that point. I often wonder if those first ones are still in people’s possesion.

Q) So what subjects did you prefer in the beginning? What did those people buy pictures of?

A) Like I said, my early work was strictly B/W. They are still some of my best– infrared images and a lot of winter scenes– but I knew I was on to something. It just took more time till I was really confident. I ended up owning my own photolab that was a B/W lab incorporated inside a 100 year old photo business. That’s when I began to LEARN and teach myself all sorts of printing techniques.

Q) What makes a good photo, Ray? 

A) I think what my artist statement says– Having always loved the outdoors and then being able to present it in a manner that stirs a memory or an emotion for myself and others makes me aware of what creating a photograph can mean. If it gets someone to go “Wow!” or “Oooohhh”.

Q) Does artistic pleasure or money drive you? Would a young photographer chasing money first be a mistake?

A) I NEVER made enough money to make a difference. I think I’ve always been aware of the financial aspect. I’m not stupid enough to charge $300 for a small photo like I’ve seen people do. My 16×20’s are priced in our local gallery at $225.00; so, after expenses and gallery fees, I make a few bucks. The price I have the book set at is NOT going to make me rich by any stretch. It’s all about ego maybe. I’d rather have them recognized as a great body of work than get rich, BUT, if the right person saw them and said, “I’d like to redecorate my ten hotels with your pictures” I’m not going to turn that down.

A young photographer has a lot of competition now in the sense that EVERYONE thinks they are a photographer with the advent of digital and phone cameras.

Q) What would your advice be to a young photographer trying to learn the trade?

A) Well, I’ve always said, “Just keep shooting!” When you had to pay for the developing and prints that was hard. Digital– you can shoot till your finger is numb. You just have to find your style and what excites you. Some folks like still life while others are good at street scenes. I could never take a picture of a homeless person and think it had some artistic meaning, BUT, people do and yes there are some awesome street photographers out there. People ask me why have you never done weddings? My response has always been, “People talk back…trees don’t.”

Q)  What’s your personal favourite of the work you’ve done?

A) Way too many to do that– they’re like my children. Pick your favorite? Right…SURE. Some have certain feelings for where or what was going on at the time, but it’s funny. Almost all of them are like a moment frozen in time for me. I can tell you where they are from, who I was with (if anyone) or any other circumstances.

Q) Black and white or colour? Which do you prefer? 

A) In the beginning, I only used to show my B/W’s and then someone at a show said, “How come you don’t do color?”  I said, “I have tons of color.” Once I started showing those early color pics, some became my best sellers.

Q) So did you choose favourites for your book? Did you take new photos especially for it?

A) No, the book has been years in the making. I really could do a Volume Two with the new stuff from the last couple years. I got a new camera this year and went on a real tear. You’ll have to go into the photos section on the photography FaceBook page.

Q) I’ll be sure to take a look, Ray! So how did the book come about? Did you always have it in mind?

A) Well, I honestly don’t remember the catalyst for it. Maybe I just thought I had a decent amout of work behind me and thought it would be a good way to get a lot of it out there to be seen without having to do the outdoor artshows. I was getting tired of those quickly. So, it started slowly, then I put it down… then picked it up again…then down and that went on for five years.  All of a sudden I got the fire in me to get it done when the photobook industry really came of age. It’s still too expensive for the way I’d like it. I really need to get the cost down another ten to fifteen dollars.

Q) What’s the book called and where can people buy it?

A) Words and Images : The Poetry and Art of the Landscape Photograph. So far, it’s just on Blurb’s website in e-book and hardcover. I’m also trying to get the e-book accepted by Apple. The title is kind of a play on words in the sense that there is no poetry in the book but that the landscape itself can be very poetic.

You can also find Ray on Facebook and YouTube. Go check him out! But before you do that, here’s a couple of his beautiful photographs.

High Hopes Ray Zirkle

autumn in marinette co ray zirkle

Another interview was over and I have rarely enjoyed an interview more. Ray is not only an excellent photographer– he is also an expert with knowledge that many of today’s young photographers will sadly never know. Is digital photography a great thing? I think so, but the skill of film photography should never be forgotten.

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