When Kay Shumway retired from his position as a Dean at the College of Eastern Utah-Blanding Campus he had no intention of becoming a well-known landscape photographer, re- nowned for capturing the beauty of San Juan County.
Shumway said his original intent, after retirement, was to create a book chronicling the flowers and plants of the county. As he spent more and more time out in the backcountry, however, his vision changed.
"When I first started, after retiring, I was focusing on flowers. I was going to do a book but a book is old fashioned now. You can get the same information on the Internet from web sites so I've given up on a book. When I was doing flowers I noticed all the other beauty, in the canyons and mountains and stars, so I kind of got in to that end of photography and not as much with the flowers," Shumway explained. "It was not ever intended but it just came along. Go forward with faith and good things happen."
For Kay Shumway, that faith as resulted in a second career, creating some of the most beautiful photographs of San Juan County ever taken. Kay's hard work and dedication have made the former college administrator a household name in many places. His photographs now hang in many homes around the country, as well as public facilities throughout San Juan Coun-ty. If you walk the halls, or visit most offices at Blue Mountain Hospital, you will find Shumway's photographs adorning the walls, including his 20-foot mural of Blue Mountain in the fall.
Shumway first took an interest in photography as a boy, growing up in Blanding. He said his parents bought him a photo developing kit, but the only place in his home dark enough to develop black and white film was the coal bin under the house.
"We had water down there and I'd fill little trays with water for developing in complete darkness," he recalled.
For many years he got away from serious photography, until he retired in July of 1997. That's when he jumped into photography with both feet. For the first year of his new career he worked with film but that had its drawbacks.
"It was too slow. I'd take pictures and send them to Seattle Film Works, in Seattle, Washington. Sometimes it would be two weeks before I got the photos back and I'd find out what I did wrong or what I did right" he said. "I only spent about one year having to develop film because that's when digital photography was introduced. It was so nice to put a digital file from the camera memory card into the computer and see what the photo I had taken. Since most of my information was self-taught at first, I learned ten times faster that way."
Shumway also attended three professionally taught workshops, where he spent a week in the field with professional photographers. According to Shumway, the interesting thing about these workshops was, they were held in Utah. He said Utah is where professional photographers like to come because this is where so many beautiful photos for landscape photography are located. He learned a lot from these workshops, and then, armed with his newly acquired knowledge, Kay and his wife Patsy ventured into the backcountry of San Juan County seeking out the choicest photo opportunities.
"Patsy's been a big help all these years. She's my best help and my biggest critic," Shumway stressed. "She'll tell me what's wrong with my pictures when no one else will. She went with me every where and we'd even go out and slept in the van so we would be ready for sunrise the next day.
"People would say, 'man, how'd you get that picture?' and I'd say, well, I went out. Out of my house for one thing, before sunup, and I'd stay until the sun went down," Shumway smiled. "Getting up early, before the sun comes up, or staying late after the sun goes down is part of the process. You need to be where you're taking a picture one hour before the sun comes up. A lot happens before the sun clears the horizon. Thirty minutes to an hour before. And a lot of beautiful things happen in nature just as the sun goes down, and thirty minutes after it 's gone down, when the light lights up the world."
Shumway said he never thought of going into business until some people started asking if they could buy his photos. That's when he thought he'd try selling them and get a little more serious about starting a business. Then, about ten years ago, he started putting his photos in the Center Street Art Gallery, in Blanding. About the same time he saw an ad in a magazine about printing photos on metal and he liked what he saw.
"So I sent them some digital files and they printed them on metal. I really liked them. People love them. One couple bought Christmas presents for kids and spent $1,200, insisting on the metal format. If people can afford it they will go with metal."
Today, most of Shumway's photos found around the area are on the metal format. He still produces traditional prints of his photos and he also displays photos on 'Gater Board', both of which are less expensive than the metal format. He doesn't do much Black and White photography any more, although he does do some work in Black and White.
"My wife says, 'With all this beautiful country and colors why would anyone want black and white?' I have to agree, but sometimes Black and White is good," Shumway said.
Of all the hundreds of photos Shumway has taken over the past nineteen years, does he have a favorite? Yes. A photo entitled 'Around the Bend' is his favorite.
"If a loved one has passed on, they've just gone around the bend, and one day we'll go around the bend and there they will be," Shumway explained. "We took that photo the same year our daughter died of cancer. It has that emotional context besides being a picture people buy over and over again. They buy it for sympathy, when there's a death in the family or just to have a beautiful photo of San Juan County hanging on their wall. I bet we've sold this photo 200 times."
Kay Shumway's focus on flowers may have changed over the years, but his new focus on all the raw, natural beauty of San Juan County has blossomed into a love affair he has shared with the public through his photographs. We at Blue Mountain Hospital are proud to display Kay's photos as we share in his love of San Juan County and it's magnificent scenery. If someone wishes to see the best of what San Juan County has to offer, time spent visiting his home photo gallery or browsing his web site at kayshumway.com, is almost as good as visiting the backcountry yourself. Almost, but even Shumway would tell you, seeing the beauty of this area in person is the way to go.
"It's surprising that a lot of people don't get out any more to see this country. They just stay home," he lamented. Fortunately for us, Kay and Patsy haven't stayed home and they've shared their experiences with us through their photography. For that we thank them.