It was on a little known scenic byway with the numbers 2-4-2 etched on the sign that began Ray Urner’s photographic journey in life.
As young boy, his family would haul him off to the glitz and dinge known as Reno for the summer vacation. Not the most appropriate place for a child, but Ray always found the positive aspects of the regular journey in the nature that existed in between his home in Canada and the saloon of one armed bandits in Nevada.
Ray would ask, “Dad, can we stop at the Three Sisters on our way to Reno?”
Always in a hurry to arrive at the casino floor, his father somehow managed to find a little time on the drive to indulge his son in the activities he cherished. With a cigarette hanging from his lip, the portly man looked at his son and always responded, “Yaw, okay.”
It probably began with a 35mm camera being held tightly in his hands a top of the Dee Wright Observatory mid-way on Oregon’s highway 242. In awe of the mountainous view atop of the castle like structure, not a single vista existed that could produce a bad picture. The small boy would aim the cheap little camera at the snow-capped North Sister and snap a shot without a care in the world for lighting, angles, or composition. He could barely contain himself as he imprisoned the moment forever. The process was repeated over and over again until the roll of film was exhausted.
For the rest of trip, he would wait anxiously to see the results of his masterful photography, remembering in his mind what he had seen. When the moment finally came to look at his pictures for the first time, the boy was confused. He didn’t remember a large dark spot across the sky and part of the mountain. The mountain also seemed crooked, and he was certain from his memory that it had not been that way. He wondered if he had somehow forgotten about the wind that day; it must have been fierce, because everything in the photograph was smeared in the image, except the black blotch.
What child hasn’t taken a picture of their thumb and moved the camera when taking a picture? Ray took his early mistakes and grew from that moment forward. As the years went by, the thumbs disappeared from the images, and frames stabilized and became crystal clear. It wasn’t long before Ray began to excel at photography, seeing beauty where others would only walk on by without notice. Ray polished his talents with a formal education in photography at Focal Point Visual Arts in beautiful Vancouver, BC, giving him the framework needed to understand the mechanics behind the lens and bring to life the images that he captures.
30 years after snapping his first blurred image, Ray found himself at the forefront of modern photography. In the digital era, it is much more than snapping an image. Images must be pursued and then created. Ray understands this philosophy and adheres to it implicitly, even if that means hiking for 30km while dodging grizzly bears just to acquire one picture.
With idols like Ansel Adams, Ian Shive, and Peter Lik to keep him motivated, Ray understands that the road to greatness is paved by risk taking.
Is there a shot he won’t take?
Written by author Mark Fuson