Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Vera Topinka and David McChesney

This week takes us to the studio and residence of Vera Topinka.  Topinka will be showing with fellow photographer David McChesney this year.  It just so happens that these two photographers are neighbors in Joshua Tree, so it made sense that they pair up and show together for the Tours.  The work of these two photographers blends beautifully.  Topinka focuses primarily on portraits of people, while McChesney's photographs are portraits of wildlife.

Vera Topinka has been in the High Desert for nearly five years, coming from Marin County ( in the bay area of San Francisco.)  She grew up in small towns in Idaho and Oregon, having immigrated from Germany shortly after the war.  Topinka has been a professional photographer for about 25 years, with a portrait and wedding business being the primary focus.  She is inspired by light, beauty, and the expressions of people.  Topinka feels fortunate to have stumbled onto something that will never grow old to her, since there is always so much to learn.  The camera she had at the beginning was "crappy," and since she wasn't able to capture what she saw with it, she was spurred on to get better and better photographs.  Vera considers herself to be mainly a portrait photographer.  She loves it when she can really capture what she calls the "deep essence" of a person; that quality which shows through when people are just being themselves.  Often, her favorite shots occur when the person is not aware of being photographed.  Like most photographers, she does shoot whatever captures her eye, and of course the desert has been a source of inspiration for her.  Topinka often uses metal, bits of cholla skeletons, tin cans, and old wood to frame and display her photographs.   She says the idea came about as a result of living in the desert.  She finds the "funky junkiness" of the desert beautiful, and has found a unique way to incorporate it with her photography.
Topinka has had an ongoing show of portraits at the Wonder Garden Cafe for the last year, which was just changed to represent all new work.  Two years ago, she had a show at True World Gallery in Joshua Tree, and has also showed at Starbucks in Yucca Valley.  For the tours this year, she will show new portraits in addition to smaller works with other desert-related photos on metals that people might like for their homes.  Art, for Topinka, is important as a means of expressing feeling, beauty, weirdness of mood, color and inspiration.  She loves to look at art, or listen to art as a means of being inspired by others.  She feels its one of the deepest kinds of communication.  Topinka enjoys biking, running and hiking as ways to open her up to the natural world.  As she elegantly puts it, the exercise "centers me and helps me create my life, which is my most magnificent artwork."

McChesney has been visiting the desert since he was a baby, as his grandparents lived in Snow Creek.  He bought a home in Joshua Tree in 1998 and visited on weekends from Orange County.  He finally made the desert his full time home in 2008.  (A move he does not regret!)  Spending time in Snow Creek as a youngster, his grandmother would put food and water out for the wildlife.  This is where his fascination with wild animals first began.  When McChesney was a teenager, his parents divorced.  As he puts it:  "They split up and I got the camera!"  That was the beginning of his foray into the world of photography.  He first photographed rock and roll - capturing the likes of Bob Dillon, the Who, and other famous acts while working for KROQ radio in Pasadena.  It was in 1973 that McChesney began to visit National Parks, which led him into becoming the wildlife photographer he is today.

McChesney is drawn to the grandeur, waterfalls and wildlife in our National Parks.  He has traveled to 54 different National Parks, from Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands to Alaska.  In addition to the wildlife he has captured through the lens of his camera while traveling to other places, he has photographed 120 different species right outside the window of his house here in Joshua Tree. This makes our desert the ultimate home for McChesney.  The neighborhood where he and Topinka live is only 1 mile from Joshua Tree National park, providing them proximity to an abundance of desert fauna.   McChesney feels that a lifetime of loving nature and the wildlife in it are what have driven his passion.  He loves the lessons he learns every day, living here and observing nature.
McChesney, like many of our creative minds, has another outlet for his creativity besides his photography.  He also plays the harmonica.  Performing for 30+ years as "hurricane" David, he was crowned a National Harmonica Champion in 2008.  There is certainly more to this artist than meets the eye.  McChesney has written and published a coffee table book of his photography, called Muir Roots: at One with the Wild.  The book is available at several locations in the Morogo Basin, including the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center, Hi-Desert Nature Museum and California Welcome Center.  He is also releasing three new lines of bird cards this year, "American," "Gulf Coast," and "Desert" Bird life.  The "Desert Birdlife" cards will be released in November during his birdlife exhibit at the Covington Park Gallery in Morongo Valley.

Vera Topinka and David McChesney will be showing both weekends of the October Art Tours this year - October 23rd and 24th and October 30th and 31st. 

written by Karine Swenson

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