Per Volquartz—a deep loss

Portrait of Per Volquartz by Roger Smith

I learned today of the passing of Per Volquartz, a true master in the craft of fine art photography. In my mind, Per was one of the top fine art black and white photographers living, and now among the masters past.

My first meeting with Per was back in ’06 I believe at one of his free photography workshops on the Eastern side of the Sierras. A week photographing with like minds, the never-ending enthusiasm of Per and the dramatic scenery that only the East Side can provide. I returned the following year to regroup with the workshop and continued further east into Tonopah, Nevada for another one of Per’s gatherings. It was at these workshops that I could feel myself beginning to commit to learning photography for the craft it truly is.

As I scan my memory from ’06 forward I begin to realize just how important those workshops were for me. They began to build a community in my life. A network of friends, rarely seen, but connected none-the-less via this craft. Per was largely responsible for this upstart community in my life.

These workshops helped me to understand the rhythm of a photographers life, the rhythm one could create living a photographers life. And it is this emerging life that began to define who I am. Not from a place of ego, but from a place deeper inside. Per, unknown to him and perhaps even me up until now, helped me to define myself, helped me to see fine craftsmanship as a commitment , a life long process. Helped me to understand that life is a process, not a quick fix. This is the life of a craftsman, this is a photographers life.

The photographic community in my life continues to grow thanks to Per and the friendships I’ve developed over the years since meeting him. Living on the Monterey Peninsula, the hub of West Coast fine art photography, has connected me with all walks of the photographic craft.

Within my craft, in its creative ebb and flows, there is a constant sensation within, ever pulling, a helpless state of viewing life in terms of composition, tones, textures, smells and sounds. Seeking even further to extend life on to a sheet of film and, in turn, fibered paper coated with a silver gelatin emulsion.

I remember my first workshop experience, an opportunity to show work in front of a group of talented photographers. I really wanted to ‘show my stuff’ but was deathly afraid of peer rejection. I introduced myself and and mentioned I had been working on my craft “for a few years now.” After looking at a some of my prints, Per’s response was, “Wow, don’t come back in a few more years”. That was a jewel to me, one which I carry to this day, closely guarded.

On a trip down to SoCal to visit family, I stopped by to visit Per—this was probably in ’08. We walked around his studio. Per was preparing a large show to be exhibited in Denmark…his ancestral home if I recall. We flipped through a number of the exhibit prints…Each one leaving me breathless…wondering how could I possibly create such a fine print.

Per was an elegant craftsman. My observations of him was that his gifts were drenched in elegance. Per was one of the best printers I’ve seen, living or otherwise. Much of my printing inspiration comes from viewing his prints—his traditional and dedicated approach yet adding his own emotion to the final print.

While shooting out at the sand dunes west of Tonopah Nevada early one morning, after slogging through the dunes trying to find ‘the shot’, I came across Per not too far from his vehicle, he was pleased with the negative he just exposed. I looked down at his scene…a rock with windswept sand trailing behind. The final print from that negative was used for the cover of his book, “Per Volquartz, 30 years of Photography”. The image is entitled, Area 51.

My last conversation with Per was an early morning chat via Facebook back in June of this year. I was writing some code and up pops a chat window from Per. We bantered back and forth for a while, catching up with photography news and swapping backpacking stories. Per mentioned a trip he did some time ago…solo…where he had started hearing voices in the streams. I could relate. We both got a laugh (LOL) out of that.

I don’t want to give the impression that I was a great friend of Per or that I knew him well. In fact I was always envious of the SoCal community whom he surrounded himself with. Per was simply someone who I met briefly on a number of occasions. Someone who, none-the-less, affected my life deeply. The communities he began will continue to grow within and around me, his work will continue to inform and inspire me…truly a master’s greatest gift.

Per Volquartz –