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Ray likes to say that he has "bookended" his life with photography. Ray's interest in photography began when he had to stop playing high school sports--and roller skating--when he developed a knee condition. His dad gave him an old Argus c4 film camera and Ray fell in love with photography. After high school, he was hired by Ed Boden of Boden Studios in Georgetown, KY while he attended college. In addition to his work with Ed at weddings and studio work, Ed also arranged for him to be the photographer for the campus newspaper and yearbook. Ed was generous in making sure Ray stayed busy with enough photography jobs to pay his way through college. "Ed was my first photography mentor, and ultimately became a friend," Ray says with gratitude. "I owe a lot to him."
After college, Ray enlisted in the US Army as a Psychology Specialist (his major) during the Viet Nam war. After a 9-month assignment at Letterman Army Hospital, Ray was selected as one of the people to go to Camp Zama, Japan and help establish the Army's drug and alcohol program. "I had planned on continuing a career in photography, but I really became fascinated by addictions," he explains. After leaving the army in 1973, Ray was hired by the state of KY to set up the first community-based nonmedical detox program in the state--only the 3rd such program in the nation. A year later, at the ripe old age of 24, Ray was hired as the Executive Director of the Kentucky Alcoholism Council. When he attempted to instutute stateside alcohol and drug education program he realized there was a problem. While treatment seemed to be working, there were no alcohol and drug education programs that had demonstrated success. Worse, some actually led to increases in use. So, Ray set out to figure out why. After three years of reading hundreds of studies, and conducting some original studies with researchers at the University of KY and Eastern KY University, Ray figured it out. He developed a new paradigm of how addictions develop, and a small group motivational intervention that seemed to work. After a year-long controlled study, evidence suggested the program did indeed bring behavior changes with both adults and adolescents. Ray then founded the nonprofit, Prevention Research Institute and began making the Prime for Life program available nationally--and ultimately, internationally.
Over the next 35 years, Ray's work took him to all 50 states and 24 countries--and he usually traveled with camera in hand. After a time, it became apparent he had a body of images that people wanted to see. He then created Our Beautiful World to share his work, and with it, a "retirement" career. Ray tells the story of how on a two-week photo expedition photographing bears and whales in Alaska, he realized he wanted to bookend his life with photography--this time with it being nature photography. "I was spellbound by the whales bubble net feeding, and by the Coastal Brown Bears in the wilderness. I stood at my tripod watching the bears one day, and knew this was how I wanted to live out my life."
Ray has a unique approach to nature photography that was influenced by what he learned about addictions. "When a brain researcher shared with me her images showing how the brain 'lights up' when a heavy user sees even a photo of a glass of beer, I knew it had broader implications. As research progressed, it demonstrated that this is not unique to drugs. Anytime we see something that excites us, our brain reacts in that way. I knew that was how my brain responds when I see a compelling site I want to photograph," says Ray. "I then realized that the brain sees the world in symbols--pictures if you will. Not only that, our brain is designed to filter out anything other than what has captured our attention. We look at something that grabs us and our brain zooms in, blurs out what is irrelevant to our experience, and captures an image." Ray explains, "The most sophisticated camera we will ever own is the one in our brain. The task is to figure out what image our brain has captured--that is what we are responding to. It is not the scene that moves us, it is what are brain has selected from that scene and served up to us. Once we learn to decipher that image, and then learn how to make the camera re-create that image, that is when our photographs can become art."
Ray is happy to share those images with you, and welcomes your comments. Go ahead--send him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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