Charlie Morey – Photo Talk #14

December 3rd, 2010 |  Published in A-E, PhotoTalks  |  Subscribe to Comments

This week I am presenting an interview with Charlie Morey. I was introduced to Charlie’s work by a friend. A lot of you nature photographers out there might appreciate this and sigh in jealousy: In 2005, Morey qualified for an Artist-in-Residence program at Yosemite National Park, and he lived there making photographs! Read the interview below for what Charlie has to say about his experience..

You can check more of Charlie’s photos here at his You can also check Charlie’s other website at You can find a list of his exhibits here. Charlie also publishes a newsletter, you can subscribe to it

Here is the interview.

Yosemite Dawn, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved
Yosemite Dawn, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved, All Rights Reserved
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: Tell me a little about yourself. How did you get into photography?

CM: I developed an interest in learning about photography after looking at snapshots I’d taken of family members and understanding that, although they looked pretty good, I hadn’t really had much to do with assuring that fact. There was a lot of luck involved. Composition seemed to come easily, but beyond that bit of natural knowledge, I had no clue what made a camera click!

In the late 1960s (probably ’67 or ’68) I went to a pawn shop in Bangor, Maine (about 20 miles north of my hometown Orland) and found a Minolta Hi-Matic 7 rangefinder-type 35mm camera. With it, I photographed my rural environment, family members and a few motorsports events, like motocross and snowmobile racing.

I bought basic film-developing equipment and chemicals and processed my B&W film at home. I couldn’t afford a full darkroom with an enlarger, so at that point, I just made tiny proof sheets of my work in small 4″ x 5″ trays.

Photography remained a hobby until the early 1970s. My young family was living in West Palm Beach, Florida then (I was a toolroom machinist at the Pratt & Whitney Research and Development Center there), and I had been racing a motocross bike sponsored by the Holmes-Hansen motorcycle dealership. When Holmes-Hanson discontinued selling that brand of motocross bike, I lost my sponsorship, and I couldn’t afford to set myself up with a new race bike. I’d upgraded my camera to Nikkormat and owned a 135mm telephoto lens, so I kept going to motocross races, but instead of racing, I took photos of my friends racing theirs. We’d show proof sheets at the following week’s race, and the riders would place orders for 8x10s, which we’d deliver at the following event.

I began sending my racing photos to a weekly newspaper called Cycle News/East (the home office, Cycle News/West, was in California), and the editor liked them. He said if I’d write stories to go with them, he’d buy more pictures. So I took a typing class and became a freelance journalist (or, motojournalist, as we called ourselves then).

Edit by SU: Here is Charlie’s “Legends of American Motocross Gallery”:

I wrote race reports for Cycle News, continued selling 8x10s, and when the editor had an opening for a new Associate Editor, he offered me the job. We moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia, near the Cycle News office, and my journalism career finally provided its first fulltime job, complete with regular paychecks.

That job provided me the opportunity to travel all over the eastern U.S. and into parts of Europe to cover international events. In 1978, the home office needed a new editor, so I applied for and got the position. We moved to California over our holiday vacation and started the new year in the heart of motojournalism.

Cycle News publisher Sharon Clayton often said that her company was a training school for motorcycle magazine editors, and sure enough, I got a thrilling offer from Petersen Publishing Company’s Richard P. Lague to become founding editor of a new motorcycle magazine, Dirt Rider. I hired a great creative team, published first issue of the new magazine (now the largest of its type in the world) in December 1982 and spent 14 wonderful years at Petersen Publishing Company.

I left when Mr. Petersen sold his company after 50 years of private ownership. I bounced around the dot-com universe for a while, chasing that dream, finally leaving the corporate world behind in 2002.

I’m now fully retired from corporate life and doing my best to succeed again in the individual world of fine art photography, my core love for the past 40-plus years.

First Light, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved
First Light, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved, All Rights Reserved
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: You were chosen to be an Artist-in-Residence at Yosemite in 2005. Can you tell us about your experience of being an artist and living in beautiful Yosemite?

CM: If you are either a rock climber or a photographer, you must go to Yosemite sometime in your career. It is Nirvana, Valhalla and every other incarnation of ultimate paradise all rolled into one for someone who climbs “because it is there” or someone who captures photographs as a way of life.

Imagine the Artist-in-Residence life: Every morning, you awake in a comfortable cabin within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. Your sole responsibility today is to go outdoors and make new images. Awaiting you is Half Dome, El Capitan, the Merced River, and dozens of other monuments to geologic history and the beauty of nature at its ultimate. Maybe it will rain, and you’ll get mood-inspiring mist in the valley. Maybe the sun will appear unencumbered, and you’ll get rainbows on Yosemite or Bridalveil Falls. Maybe it will snow, and the valley will become wrapped in a soft white comforter with crystals that reflect light like diamonds.

Living as a photographer in Yosemite is quite literally a fantasy shared by many nature photographers, and I’m incredibly happy and fortunate to have experienced it!

I kept an online diary during my AiR period, and it’s still available here:

Artists of all media can enjoy the same opportunity. My Artist-in-Residence was provided by Yosemite Renaissance, and they offer opportunities for about a half-dozen artists each year. Artists are chosen by a juried selection process (although there’s been a pause in the process due to the loss of the cabin I used…the owner sold it), and information about upcoming AiR opportunities is available at the Yosemite Renaissance website.

Frosty, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved
Frosty, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved, All Rights Reserved
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: You photograph landscapes, animals and streetscapes. What is it about these subjects that interests you?

CM: Landscapes and animals fall under my inborn love for nature. As a little boy growing up in the 1950s in rural Maine, I virtually lived in the forests, rivers and lakes around my home town. I wasn’t a visitor, like a school child in the city going on a class trip to the zoo. I was, in effect, inside the cages, living with the animals, birds and fish that made up my natural zoo out there in the Maine woods.

At first I did all the trial-and-error things that young human animals do. I shot a robin off a phone line with a BB gun, then picked up its dead body and realized that it had been a much better bird alive than dead. I relearned the same lesson later with a .22 and a squirrel and once again with a 32 Special deer hunting rifle and a hapless porcupine whose feet (as a designated pest) were worth 50 cents at the Town Clerk’s office. I was in my early teens when the porcupine died — on a deer hunt with my dad and his friends — and I’d finally developed enough sense to learn once and for all, that killing the natural things I loved wasn’t what I wanted achieve during my life.

We played with boats, built rafts (and watched them go over the dam on the Narramissic River), skated on the rivers, lakes and frog ponds, skied and sledded down every hill in the county, and acted like civilized little humans as infrequently as possible. It was wonderful, and I’d go back in a flash, if only…

If nature is my Yin, then urban streetscapes are my Yang. I love the country and feel extremely out of place in the city. In nature I look for (and find) beauty. In the city I look for (and find) irony, grunge and the sound of lost voices on the graffiti-painted walls.

I remember imagining as a child what the earth would have been like if humans had never evolved: a perfect pristine wilderness. Then, I idealistically felt willing to give up my life (along with everyone else) if that would then create my dream planet. But in that daydream and many others, I’ve changed my mind since. Whatever happens, I want to be here to take its picture. And you should be, too.

On a section of Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, I found enough images to produce a full gallery on my website.

In it are those voices I mentioned above. It seems to me that everyone who passed through that funky/trendy part of town felt compelled to leave behind some sort of message, some sign that they’d been there. Media included spray-canned graffiti, felt-tip markered comments, stickers of all shapes, colors and sizes, stenciled artwork, and left-behind souvenirs, like the pizza-box spray-can palette one graffiti artist left in an alley along with his discarded spray heads.

Those I see as signs of individuality poking through the deep snow of civilization, which attempts cover us all with the same, plain coating. Rays of hope. Voices from the mob. Attempts to break on through to the other side.

And not at all like the incredible reality of nature sans man.

Hope, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved
Hope, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved, All Rights Reserved
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: You wear a lot of hats — photographer, journalist, web designer…among all these, what does photography mean to you?

CM: Photography is the core and the origin of all that I have accomplished during my career (and as you can see, it’s lasted longer than the career, now contributing to the bulk of my activities in retirement). My ability to make images steered my career path into journalism, and I have produced publications that made me proud (of myself and my creative team), and I have earned six-figure incomes in that field (and in web work as well).

I feel that composition is one of my innate strengths, and that (along with years of experience) contributes to my graphic design capabilities. And those, along with an understanding of HTML, made website design the next obvious step. Here are two of my websites:

Need a 2009 calendar? There are three that I’ve designed and published through the print-on-demand website, You can follow this link to take a look at them:

Got postcards? I’ve been designing postcards, posters and other print media for fine artists and galleries since 2002, and here’s a gallery of samples:

All these products rely on my photography or skills that I learned through photography.

The Art Critic, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved
The Art Critic, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved, All Rights Reserved
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: You have won numerous awards, recognitions and had your work exhibited quite a bit. Can you talk about the path to success to inspire aspiring photographers?

CM: I think I’m still looking for it! (laugh)

Like any creative career path, photography is subject to the whims of others: gallery curators, art critics, editors and of course, the general public.

Being a fine art photographer is a lot like being a musician or an actor. There are a few people — the small minority at the top — who are recognized and who sell their work well enough to become famous and well-compensated. There are a number who actually manage to earn a living at it without becoming famous or rich. And then there are the rest of us, artists who create daily (because we have no choice) but who are regarded with little or no interest.

So how can one succeed? You do need talent, and you especially need to do something that’s uniquely yours. Copying others won’t do you any good at all. You need to have a body of work that’s wonderful and recognizably yours. But that’s just the beginning.

Talent alone isn’t enough. From getting into your first gallery show, to getting that huge commission to create art, you need to have good people skills, and you need to apply them. Make friends with key people. Become part of their scene. Attend openings at your local gallery, even when your work isn’t being shown. Talk to other artists (we all have tips to offer), and become a recognized figure on whatever scene you aspire to succeed within.

Friends will give you opportunities. Strangers are unlikely to cut you any slack at all (but don’t let that stop you from trying something new…who knows what will work in the end?). And never overlook an opportunity to make a new, influential friend.

In my case, I approached a gallery in North Hollywood that featured local artists. At first, I simply submitted artwork for their juried process, and was able to get into a few shows that way. I got to know the gallery owners and eventually found that they needed stuff like postcard design and website work. Before long, we’d worked out a deal where I helped promote their upcoming shows with postcards and built their website in exchange for a space on their walls every month. Sure, it hurt the old ego somewhat to get in like that (rather than being recognized as a genius photographer — hahaha), but in 2002 when I’d never shown my work in a gallery before, it got my foot in the door.

Pace yourself for the long run. I always felt that things were moving too slowly (still do), but an old saying from a respected lecturer in my past helped me stick with it.

Remember the Three Ts: Things Take Time.

Sad but true, they usually do. But who knows? You may have an easier time of it than I did.

Co-habitation, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved
Co-habitation, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved, All Rights Reserved
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU:Any recommendations (like photographers, photo techniques, music, books, quotes, food…anything)?

CM: First and foremost, get comfortable with your instrument. In high school, I played guitar with a group of friends, and I always realized (while never achieving it) that the day should come when I could just think about what I wanted to play, and it would naturally come out of my instrument. I never achieved that level of competence with the guitar, but I did with the camera.

Back in my day, the Time-Life photography books were instructional and inspirational. I’m not sure what’s comparable with them today, but even so, my recommendation may not work for you anyway. Look for love. Find images that draw you in, ones where you sincerely say, “Wow, I wish I’d done that!” And then strive to do even better.

Learn your camera. When you’re collecting images, you shouldn’t be trying to figure out how to change f/stops or ISO settings. You should be concentrating on your subject, feeling what it’s doing, anticipating what will happen next (so you can be ready to capture it).

Get the basics of f/stop vs. shutter speed down. Shoot manually (I find using aperture- or shutter-priority settings tends to burn out more highlights than I’m comfortable with). Learn how to work depth-of-field with exposure to get the best image possible.

I’ve been shooting digitally since 1999, by the way. I happily left behind the smelly, toxic chemicals and less-concise darkroom manipulations of traditional silver-based photography.

Color-positive digital is very different than negative film. Use a spot-meter and measure the different areas of your image. Expose so that the specular (extreme) highlights are just within the limits of pure white (RGB: 255-255-255).

Assuming you’re shooting digital, you must learn Photoshop. It’s a very complicated program, and the traditional Adobe interface is anything but instinctive (unless, perhaps, you’re a left-brained engineer type). I took a UCLA extension course after giving up on trying to figure it out alone, and I’ve never regretted it.

I have never been happy with the image as the camera captures it. Every attempt at capturing perfection in a single click of the shutter has failed so far. That’s most likely due to my right-brain updating its preferences on a moment-by-moment basis (i.e., takes me time to make up my mind, and that often changes when I open the same image at a later date). It’s the same phenomenon that some painters experience when they can’t tell when to stop on a particular piece. But between Photoshop’s Camera Raw adjustments and the Photoshop adjustment layers, I’ve become the fine art printer I’d always dreamed of becoming.

I have complete control of my images, and that’s about all an artist could ask for…

Grand Motel, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved
Grand Motel, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved, All Rights Reserved
Photos hosted on Flickr

SU: Can you mention how people interested in your work can contact you?

CM: Sure! You can view much of my work on these two websites:

I’ve placed images in a number of online gallery sites, and a licensor I work with has placed my work on sites like and I guess the quickest way to find them is simply to Google me:

And here’s my basic contact information:

Charlie Morey
Studio City, California
(I work in a home-based studio,
not open to the general public)
(323) 656-7749

Thanks for the opportunity to participate in your blog, Suprada! It’s been fun writing about it, and I look forward to any feedback or reactions that may result.

Pigeon’s Domain, Photograph by Charlie Morey, All Rights Reserved, All Rights Reserved
Photos hosted on Flickr

Thanks Charlie!

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