Light as air

Crystal Keesey

For a better view of Crystal Keesey’s “Homage to Canaletto,” visit the Northwest Reno Library.

For a better view of Crystal Keesey’s “Homage to Canaletto,” visit the Northwest Reno Library.

Walking up the steps to the Northwest Reno Library’s right wing lobby helps carry the momentous feelings conjured for “Imminent Autumn Sunrise.” Soft, iridescent rays of light ascend from a triumphant sun that pushes against the desert horizon overlooking Honey Lake. Each solar angle juts with such dimension and depth that the rays appear to be hand-shaded or painted onto each captured cumulus cloud. This is the first photograph in Crystal Keesey’s exhibit Northern Neighbor, From Dawn to Dusk.

The photo is printed on watercolor paper, furthering the illusion that Keesey’s work is a painted series rather than digital images. Keesey says she experimented with more than 30 kinds of paper.

“Each different subject has a paper that’s right for it,” she says.

Her fascination with paper and the quest to find the perfect match of paper and subject began in her senior year of college at the Rhode Island School of Design. The 10 photographs featured in Keesey’s show were all taken in Lassen County, Calif., where she lives with her husband and four children.

Some of the ideas behind her work are actually inspired by places as far away as Italy. The photograph “Homage to Canaletto"—taken right off Highway 395—pays tribute to the Venetian artist Giovanni Antonio Canaletto, famous for his Venice landscapes. Keesey’s photo captures beautifully the landscapes of rural domesticity. A little black bird, several copper houses, Honey Lake and the mountains behind are barely visible in the image.

Keesey calls this piece her “transitional work.” Realizing the limitations of digital photography, it catalyzed her decision to move to medium format film.

“Something didn’t come through,” she says. “The resolution didn’t come through. The little black bird is blurred. The human eye can see 14 to 15 stops of light. … A digital camera sees less than what film emulsion sees. Film is closer to what your eyes see. Another thing is grain … grain in film provides good depth and texture.”

For Crystal, the grain and the dynamic range of film create the soul of photography. Photography is Crystal’s language. She breaks down the word photography: writing with light.

“Every type of light tells a story,” she says. “I would like as much of a vocabulary to use in my work as possible.”

“Where there is Smoke” is a haunting image depicting the reddish gray smoke filling the Great Basin during the region’s early summer fires. This was another significant transitional piece—it prompted an interest in painting, which she hadn’t done since she had children.

As a mother, she has adapted her photographic style to be much more improvisational and serendipitous. She admits to always carrying three cameras with her. She has transcended being a photographer who takes pictures to becoming a photographer who makes pictures.

“Making a picture involves seeing a picture and then using your camera as a tool to make that picture happen,” she says.