Extreme perspectives

Keoki Flagg

Shooting photos like this one could be a good way for Keoki Flagg to get a camera up his nose.

Shooting photos like this one could be a good way for Keoki Flagg to get a camera up his nose.

Gallery Keoki’s logo is a photograph taken by the gallery’s owner, Keoki Flagg. Titled “Self Portrait with Pygmy Chief,” it features the 5-foot-6-inch Flagg standing next to an African village pygmy chief.

Looking at the photograph, Flagg points to the pygmy, who is only as tall as Flagg’s shoulders. “That’s the tallest man in that village,” he says. “Of all the photos I’ve taken in my life, that one says it all for me. Perspective is everything.”

This philosophy defines Flagg’s work, and Gallery Keoki, which opened its doors in The Village at Squaw Valley in November 2003. The Gallery is a partnership between Flagg, a photographer with 20 years of experience, and international art dealer and 32-year veteran in the business, Mark Steingard. Gallery Keoki rivals large, metropolitan galleries with its sophisticated mix of modern masters like Picasso, Dali, Miró or Chagall, up-and-coming artists and Flagg’s photography.

“Mark [Steingard] has lived in Tahoe for 25 years, had an incredibly successful career in art, and always wondered why we didn’t have more of a developed art scene at Tahoe,” Flagg says. “You go to Vail, Aspen or other resort towns, and they’ve got it. So we wanted to show what could be done here.”

Flagg—who grew up in Hawaii, received his bachelor of arts from Connecticut College and calls Tahoe his home—depicts his world travel adventures through photography. His portfolio of extreme sports photography includes clients like Visa, National Geographic Adventure, the American Skiing Company and Ski Lake Tahoe; his work has appeared in Men’s Journal, Outside Magazine, Ski Magazine, Vogue, Audubon and Sports Illustrated Women.

Whether it depicts heli-skiing, parasailing or ice-climbing, Flagg’s work holds on with unrelenting force, mostly because he was there to capture it. In fact, as you look at his photos of downhill skiers, a snowmobile back-flip, or ice-climbers scaling a frozen ravine, it’s as if you’re there, seeing things through the adventurer’s eyes. It knocks the wind out of you.

“If you see a picture of a downhill skier in a sports magazine, it’s usually shot with a long lens, and it’s frozen,” he explains. “It’s someone flying through the air, frozen, stuck like someone cut them out and pasted them there. That’s not what it feels like … Me, looking at that, is a very different thing from doing it. As long as I’m working with elements that have their own power anyway, I don’t have to create it. It’s already there. I just have to be truthful to what makes it special.”

So Flagg perfected his own method of action/adventure photography: a camera mounted on a stick. This enables him to participate in the action, not just observe it. He shoots as he moves, without even looking through the camera, sometimes using 300 rolls of film to capture that one image that says, “Now that’s how it feels.”

Of Gallery Keoki, Flagg says, “I wanted a gallery that had to be at Squaw. That’s how my art anchors it.”

The gallery’s slogan, “Modern Masters, Local Color, Extreme Sports,” indicates that there really is no theme; it just “has to move you.” The gallery even offers a 30-day return policy and a five-year exchange policy on modern masters. The diverse mix of original art, including sculpture, paint, graphics, glass and photography, is all special, says Flagg.

“I think everyone can be touched by art. It’s about finding work that’s relevant to your perspective."