SF Gate
Walnut Creek: Photographer has eye for beauty in nature
- Paul Kilduff, Special to The Chronicle
Friday, August 13, 2004

For Walnut Creek photographer Susan Reynolds, hiking in Contra Costa County can be an eye-opening and soul-restoring experience. She had passed by a certain pair of trees along Mount Diablo's Donner Creek, she says, "for probably 10 or 12 years, never saw them. This winter, I was recovering from an Achilles injury, so I was going more slowly than usual. I stopped and looked down by the creek and I saw these trees and I said, 'Wait a minute.' "

She went down with tripod and camera, and captured the scene. The resulting photograph, "Intertwined Trees," shows two trees that have grown together in a way that suggests a human embrace.

It is one of more than 30 full-color images that are on display in her first solo museum exhibition, "Revealing Nature's Mysteries: The Photography of Susan Reynolds," at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek. The images of the outdoors were taken on Mount Diablo, in Death Valley and in other outdoor locations.

"There are things that you can see if you slow down,'' she says.

"Nature photography is in essence kind of like my spiritual practice, the way that I recharge my soul,'' Reynolds says. "I've got to make time for it because if I don't I can't do the rest of my life well. It's important."

The show is part of the museum's California Environmental Artist Project, which taps into the work of artists devoted to exploring and conserving nature.

"Her work is in line with our mission of preserving wild spaces and open spaces. We just felt it was a rather unique approach in giving the pieces a voice -- the photographs give the public something to look at, something to enjoy and partake in,'' says Ernest Fabrizio-Garcia, who was curator of the exhibition.

Reynold's photograph, "Magic Mount Diablo Twilight Shadow," a mesmerizing picture of the shadow of Mount Diablo over the Delta from the peak's summit, is another example of paying attention to the moment -- and being ready to capture it. "You've got to be ready to go,'' says Reynolds, who is never without her camera and tripod on sojourns into the local wilderness. While climbing the stairs to the observation platform at sunset, she came upon the rare atmospheric condition that created the twilight shadow and she immediately snapped into action.

To get most of her shots Reynolds uses film that is 2 1/4 inches square, three times the size of standard 35mm film (which she also uses). With the greater size comes more detail.

Reynolds, 50, comes by her love for documenting nature quite naturally. When she was a 5-year-old in Berkeley her parents would take her hiking most every weekend in Tilden Park. A few years later, Reynolds would make sure to tote along her Brownie camera on these hikes as well as on family vacations to Northern California's remote Trinity Mountains.

The family kept up the hikes when they moved to Lafayette in 1967, when Reynolds was 12. Relocating to the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel was a bit of a homecoming for the family as Reynolds' paternal great-grandfather was a settler in the area in the 1850s. His daughter ran a Walnut Creek ranch from which Reynolds' father regularly explored Mount Diablo.

After earning a bachelor's degree in art history from UC Davis and an MBA from San Francisco State, Reynolds entered the fast-paced world of public relations, eventually establishing her own company 13 years ago. Although her job keeps her very busy, Reynolds still finds time to hike and take photos. She began showing her work in galleries five years ago.

"Nature photography is my mission because I love it, and I get tremendous joy from it,'' Reynolds says. "I really feel that people don't spend enough time thinking about nature, being in nature and enjoying it, and also preserving it.''

She worries that the next generation does not get out into the wild spaces to have a sense about how important it is to preserve them. Although she takes her godson and niece out for hikes and explains the local botany and other aspects of the landscape, she says, "Kids today, many of them don't have that."

"I was taught a lot about the trees and plants, the geology, the wildlife, " she says. "If it doesn't start with the family, I think it can be harder to get later, so I think it's something that probably parents and families need to think about.''

See the show

"Revealing Nature's Mysteries: The Photography of Susan Reynolds'' runs through Sept. 5 at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. $6, $5 seniors and $4 children. (925) 935-1978 or visit the Web site www.wildlife-museum.org.

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