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Petaluma nature photographer teams with dad for new book

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For nature photographer Tracy Rose, a strong photo evokes a feeling, stirs the imagination, or provokes a thought or memory in the viewer. So, when the Petaluma resident decided to publish his first photo book, he turned to a seasoned wordsmith for brief “legends,” or captions, that would support the images — his father.

“My father has always been the guy for me,” Rose said.

Fred Rose, 87, is a retired advertising and marketing communications writer. He lives with his wife, Peggy, on four wooded acres in Grass Valley. As he recalls with a laugh, when his son asked him to write the legends, Fred asked, “What’s a legend?”

But once he understood his son’s vision, he and Peggy got busy.

Because of health issues, Fred has a hard time with the physical act of writing, so Peggy transcribed as he composed out loud. The result of this family affair is “Beyond the View,” a just-published volume of 23 color photos with brief legends on the facing page.

The title was Fred’s idea.

Rather than a typical book of nature photos, with captions that describe where the photo was taken, Tracy and Fred wanted a few words for each photo that suggest a possible way of viewing the image — not to interpret it for the viewer, but rather to arrest the viewing a moment so that the image’s power to evoke reflection and memory has a chance to emerge.

“We wanted to suggest something beyond what you see at first,” Rose said. “Besides what I’m putting into the composition, the most important thing to me is what I feel as I observe.” The goal is to capture something that has a suggestion of meaning, for him and hopefully for others.

“There are great photographs everywhere, with descriptions attached,” Fred said, “but it doesn’t have to stop there. We thought there might be something more we could add to the image — a feeling, a thought.”

For example, for a dramatic photograph of two swans in close motion on the water — are they landing, taking off, fighting or mating? — Fred wrote the following legend.

Often, what is perceived in nature,

a joyful dance or decisive duel, is determined

by the tilt of the viewer’s mind.

The legend suggests not only that we look at the image again, but that we note the feelings that arise from it, asking ourselves to what degree the “tilt” of our consciousness shapes these feelings.

“We tend to perceive what we look for,” Fred said.

Many of the legends allude to memory.

For example, a striking photo of a bull at sunset, a vast bed of clouds behind him, includes this legend.

Some encounters, though brief,

unexpected, and seemingly casual,

embed memories that rise to recall

with curious frequency.

The bull is staring back at the viewer, as if asking, “Who are you?” The legend supports the question by indirectly asking us what images are embedded in our memory that have remained vivid despite the passage of time.

“Today, in my estimation, people try to get connected by more sources of information,” Fred said, “but you’re not learning about yourself. Nature can give us a broader consciousness.”

As for the process of writing the short pieces, he added, “Some legends were easy, but others had to bounce around a bit.”

Rose uses a Canon DSLR camera, going into the field with a tripod and various lenses. His photos have been shown at the Green Music Center, River Front Art Gallery, and local art festivals. They have been published by the Nature Conservancy, the Press Democrat, the Sonoma County Gazette and the Argus-Courier. Many of his nature videos have been used by state travel agencies and shared across numerous social media sites, with views in the hundreds of thousands.

Despite this, he has only recently begun to think of himself as a professional photographer.

He has never studied photography, neither technique nor history.

“I’m still in the process of learning about it,” he allowed. “I will come home with 1,200 images. If I have three or four keepers, that’s success.”

A drummer and drum teacher for more than 30 years, Rose found photography through videography. In his spare time, he had started making nature videos that he would post for friends on Facebook. Some of them went viral, being shared among grief centers, for example, because of their beauty and serenity.

“I never considered myself a photographer until Kathleen McCallum, a local photographer and artist’s representative, called me and asked what I was doing with my photography,” he recalled. “When I said I wasn’t a professional, she said, ‘BS, you’re bringing light into the world.’ ”

McCallum mentored Rose, among other things getting him into an arts festival.

Now, when he has a few days free, he heads for the wilderness in his four-wheel-drive truck.

“I love the solitude of nature,” he said. “It soothes my soul. It’s what drops away from us there that makes it special. I’m a waterfall and cloud chaser. I’ll drive for miles on a dirt road for a good view of the clouds.”

Intuition tells him when he has arrived at a place where he must stop and wait for the light to deliver the magic. Patience is not an issue for Rose.

“With or without a camera, I’m content to sit for hours in the right spot,” he said. Sometimes he will set up his camera and tripod, then stroll around with a remote clicker in hand, capturing images as the spirit moves him.

Those powers of observation have been enhanced by many bicycle trips, some lasting weeks. “When you see things from a bike, you can stop,” he said.

Rose has made a living with drums for over 30 years, playing in bands and teaching privately.

“I adore it,” he said. “I have the loosest schedule in the world. I have felt retired for 10 years. I teach two days a week and play lots of gigs.”

“I know everybody,” Rose said, referring to the music business. He currently drums for Spike Sikes and His Awesome Hotcakes, which offers a mix of soul, swing, rhythm and blues, and jazz.

“There was always music in my house,” he said. “My grandmother on my father’s side played piano for the movies, and my other grandmother also played the piano.”

At one point in his childhood, Rose’s family lived in a 16-foot travel trailer in Santa Cruz. To escape the confines, Fred would take his son for night walks in the woods. They would chat a little but mostly remain silent. Tracy traces his love for the woods back to these experiences.

“In the woods, we don’t see what’s coming, that’s the thrill and adventure of it,” he said.

“Beyond the View” can be purchased at Rose’s website, tracyrosenaturephotography.com, and through Copperfield’s Books.

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