Ray McSavaney has died. If you don't know that name, and you might not, you have a wonderful exploration in store for you—because Ray's photography lives on.
John Sexton has written a fine tribute to his great good friend. He apologizes for its length and for his typos because "it is hard to proofread the text through my tears." He has written a beautiful piece. I hope you can make a small space in your life to read it over the next couple of days.
In one of those gratuitous lists I write here every so often—you know I like lists—I said, in calling Ray one of the ten best living photographers: "The man has got no rap at all, and seems almost allergic to self-promotion or, indeed, promotion of almost any sort (which could be good things), but he's our modern-day heir to Ansel Adams: a classic West-Coast B&W Zone-System photographer whose work is gorgeous but nuanced, distanced, wide-ranging, probing, rapt, technically perfect and tonally ravishing—and did we mention gorgeous?"
John says "Ray was a humble, unassuming, quiet person, and a bit of an enigma." Later he continues: "Ray approached photography, and life, in a slow and methodical manner. He had countless talents. He was a fine chef, a talented woodworker, he designed and hand crafted clamshell portfolio boxes, was trained in the army as a cartographer, was a talented typographer, and an incisive writer. Once Ray felt passion for a particular photograph, or project, he became obsessed, and there was no stopping him from reaching his goal. His intense dedication was an inspiration to Anne and me, and many others [who knew] Ray. He had the uncommon ability to shed the encumbrances of normal day-to-day life, and focus on whatever was the subject of his attention."
I was surprised to learn that you can still buy Ray's 1992 book Explorations through John and Anne's Ventana Editions. I wish I'd known while there was still time to help Ray himself, but a purchase will still help his work—John and Anne are donating 100% of the profits to the effort to help preserve Ray's archive. Contemplating Ray's "Walking Trees" series in Explorations is one of the profound experiences of nature photography.
And as I said, if you don't know Ray's work yet you are in for a wonderful treat. He was one of the most inventive and wide-ranging of the "West Coast" school of Zone System large-format photographers, and a superlative craftsman. It's a great book.
You can see some of Ray's work at his website, but go with a strong caveat: the small JPEGs just do not begin to do justice to the lovely book reproductions or to Ray's superb prints. The JPEGs are like schoolchild sketches of great paintings, an indication at best. But they will give you an idea.
Ray McSavaney was a photographer who may not have been widely known, but who richly deserves to be remembered. R.I.P.
(Thanks to John Sexton)
P.S. Sorry for the lack of a portrait as an illustration—pictures of Ray are hard to find and hard to clear. Please don't take it as a sign of any disrespect.
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Dave Karp: "My late father-in-law did a workshop with Ray McSavaney, John Sexton and Anne Larsen. He was very taken with McSavaney. Really liked him. Ray was available to him after the workshop, to answer questions and to further the teaching started at the workshop. Later, my wife and I met Ray at a gallery showing. He remembered my father-in-law, who was gone by then, and we have a very nice talk about his work and photography in general. When the conversation turned to our feelings about his photography, he was genuinely moved by our compliments toward his work. By all accounts and by experience, a very, very nice and gentle man.
"His photography is stunning. This man understood light. His studies of the abandoned Firestone factory are amazing. I have seen similar work by well-known photographers. In my opinion, his is the best example of that sort of work. He could photograph and print snow like nobody else. Explorations is my favorite book of photography.
"He also had broad range as a photographer. He seemed equally comfortable photographing the landscape, architecture (ancient and modern), people, flowers, you name it."
Frank Greenagel: "Ray was an exceptional teacher as well as a superb photographer. I worked the Southwest with him half a dozen times and was often surprised by his deep rapport with several Navajos we encountered, often in a remote canyon; certainly born of his understanding of and empathy with their culture.
"I recall several times when we set up our cameras, all ready to make an exposure, then sat and waited—may an hour or more—for a cloud to move into the right position or for a shadow to fall on the right area of a ruin. He was a very gentle man, one of wide-ranging knowledge and high ethical values. I feel especially fortunate to have a dozen of his prints from the Southwest, each one recalling for me a day-hike, mostly in Southeast Utah. Mike, you are correct that he seemed to avoid all efforts at self-promotion. I think I'll have a beer, or several, in his memory."