Meet Your Merchant: Capturing Lake Tahoe with Keoki Flagg
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. andamp;#8212; The texture is gritty and the image dotted as if obscured in a bed of rice. It strikes of something, some type of idea, some emotion. And yet from what? Is it the angle of the cliff? Is it the shearing of the snow, so broken and splintered, jagged and bone-fractured?Or perhaps it is the sky that has turned black or the rocks that jump to view like mounds of meat? The skier is the focus, of course, and the eyes are drawn to his rough silhouette, his figure precariously dangling over the peak. The photograph has a rawness to it; and yet, it’s hard to turn away.andamp;#8220;They always ask me if he died from the fall,andamp;#8221; says Olympic Valley photographer Keoki Flagg, gazing at andamp;#8220;The Eagle’s Nest,andamp;#8221; an image of professional freeskier Shane McConkey descending Squaw Valley USA’s 8,200-foot peak, KT22.andamp;#8220;For the average person who walks in the door, this is beyond anything they can imagine,andamp;#8221; said Flagg, standing in his gallery, Gallery Keoki, located at the village at Squaw Valley.McConkey died in March 2009 after a BASE jumping accident in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. The photo Flagg talks about, however, was shot in 1996, when it was just McConkey, a Tahoe local, doing what he did best andamp;#8212; McConkey’s typical day at the office.The photo is emblematic of what Flagg likes to call the andamp;#8220;magic moment,andamp;#8221; when a photograph does more than simply chronicle a subject, but reaches out, expresses some deep emotion. Flagg said he’s been searching for these elusive moments for more than 30 years as he’s photographed professional athletes around the globe for magazines such as National Geographic Adventurer, Powder, Outside, Men’s Journal and Sports Illustrated.Turning TahoeTaking the shot, that’s the easy part. Getting there, knowing the right angles, harnessing the light, selecting the right camera, stationing your tripod, ensuring your equipment works, staying fit to follow your athletic subjects, photographing them authentically, developing your film, under deadlines, repeatedly, shooting at the level of the industry’s best and having enough business savvy to earn a living doing it andamp;#8212; well, this is the hard part.andamp;#8220;The hardest thing for me to do was define what made my work mine, what it was between my magic moments and everything else,andamp;#8221; said Flagg.Flagg was born in Hawaii in 1965 and spent his childhood between stints on the tropical island and extended family road trips in Europe, traveling in the back of his parent’s camper. His parents would place a notebook in his hand and drive from one spot to the next andamp;#8212; Switzerland, Italy, France, wherever the road took them.andamp;#8220;What I learned was just a love of the world. It formulated a lot of my future thinking,andamp;#8221; Flagg said.Flagg said his upbringing spurred a wanderlust that sent him burrowing through Asia and Africa for four years, after his graduation at Connecticut College with a bachelors in fine art. Editorial work followed before a family wedding brought him to Squaw Valley, where he laid roots in 1992.Craving the counterintuitiveSitting in his gallery office, Flagg is surrounded by photographs, various equipment, an ill computer to be repaired and a cabinet housing his mechanical fleet of cameras. The cabinet’s treasures include his Hasselblad Xpan used for mountainous vistas, his modified Widelux camera for 35-millimeter rotating shots, his Linhof Technorama for andamp;#8220;extreme panoramasandamp;#8221; andamp;#8212; and then there is his collection of 1960 Rolleiflex cameras for their retro, yet uncanny, appeal.They all serve a purpose andamp;#8212; depending on the circumstance.However, despite his publicized works, awards and the development of his gallery, Flagg says he’s still unsure how photographs come to be.andamp;#8220;What this gallery tells me is that those magic moments are timeless, but they’re rare,andamp;#8221; Flagg said.Most of his best works require all-day treks through the snow, hours standing in the cold, hour after hour taking and retaking a shot waiting for a precise moment, a time of day, a sequence of actions.Yet, grabbing one of his Rolleiflex cameras, Flagg said it can also just be something simple that brings out a wonderful image, with portrait shots sometimes even the odd looking camera will do the trick. He holds up the box-shaped Rolleiflex, shrugs and smiles.
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