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Pioneer Profiles: Rice shares photography skills

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The famous and revered photographer Ansel Adams said, "You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved."

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Bemidji photographer, teacher and speaker Cal Rice is not afraid to confront the issue of what is art and how photography deserves that title; photography as art. He gives mention to the commonly held belief that before the advent of photography, painters depicted the reality of war, peace, farm, death and resurrection as they saw or interpreted the situation.

As Rice writes in his artist statement, "My current photographic artistic interest is to travel to places most people have never seen, to document, to be best of my knowledge and skills, the images as I see and understand them. My passion is to return and share what I have learned and seen with others."

What Rice shares with those who have come before like nature photographer Ansel Adams; Alfred Stieglitz, who is credited with bringing the craft to the height of artistic endeavor, or the African-American Gordon Parks who shot photo essays for "Life Magazine" depicting the humanity of poverty and myriad other notable artists is his belief that one should perfect their craft and be able share your vision.

Many people can identify with a 14 year-old Cal whose aunt gave him a Kodak Brownie camera, and from the beginning he was very interested in the technical aspects of photography. Rice wondered how a picture can stay in focus from seven feet to infinity so he began to study about lens length and aperture, and how a camera works in that way. Rice did not have the advantage of working with a dark room and manipulating images but he strove, instead, to understand the technical workings of a camera. Rice admits to being a six-roll a year guy (Christmas, Easter birthdays and vacations) until one of his sons had a school project and needed to take some nature pictures. Rice admits that his newest camera at that time was 25 years old, so he went shopping and bought a new camera, a couple of lenses and a flash unit and got "hooked."

"I started going to community education courses, weekend seminars and read close to 150 books on photography during the next two years," said Rice. "So, I got really grounded in the technical aspects of photography and got involved with the Texas Professional Photographers Association. They run a one week school every year with top photographers and I would sign up to spend a week with 12 or so other people with a professional, I did that at least 10 times. The classes could be on any subject: wedding photography, environmental projects to art photography."

Rice started his career as a sideline to his work at an IBM facility in Texas. He began as a commercial photographer which demands more technical expertise because of the wide range of opportunity. For example, one may be asked to photograph the CEO of a company and then go to a shoot for a product, architecture, cultural events, social events like weddings so a commercial photographer needs to have the tools to switch the focus of the photo as required by the assignment. The need to know immediately what lighting will or will not work, for example, or the depth of field necessary to accomplish a particular effect is the everyday skill of a professional in the field.

After Cal and his wife Pat retired to Bemidji, his work took a different turn as he turned his interest to education and returned to his roots in community education. Rice's expertise is tested frequently by those adults who take his digital photography classes for community education, college students at Bemidji State University in the photo-journalism class and the high schoolers at TrekNorth taking his photo class better be prepared to be challenged and exhilarated. Cal's reputation is that of a teacher who is willing and happy to share his secrets whether they be in photography, computer programs or how to best sell on e-bay.

Because of a latent interest he was discovering in retirement, Rice began speaking and showing his work to different groups. Both Cal and his wife Pat would travel to Norway in the winter to visit their grandson and parents, and take colors photos of the Northern Lights as seen above the Arctic Circle to share with others. They would venture to Costa Rica for birding and nature photos of sunrise and sunset on the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. Then there are the solitary expeditions by Cal to the Antelope Canyon located on Navajo land in Arizona or the latest, Bhutan nestled deep in the Himalayas.

Rice's work is seen regularly at various gallery spaces in Bemidji but now he is venturing far afield this spring. Rice is one of the presenters on the lecture circuit for the Kitchigami Regional Library System Legacy Grant Speakers. This coming Tuesday, the Adventures in Lifelong Learning members and guests will get a chance to see Rice's first presentation on life in a Buddhist country that has stayed the same for centuries and now awakening from its peaceful slumber. Rice will be showing his artwork, telling their story and sharing his discovery of life still lived in the past but struggling to adapt to modernity.

During his recent interview, Rice joked how he and Ansel Adams shared one thing; they both started with a Kodak Brownie but there seems to be another aspect they both share--a highly developed imaginative eye. As Adams is quoted, "A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed."

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