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Introducing Tom Turner
by BCJ Staff 
In anticipation of big things to come at Backcountry Journeys – in 2021 and further down the road -we realized quickly there was one thing we were going to need more of… Help!

So, as we continue to dig out from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have hired a couple of really great new Trip Leaders to the team. As such, we will be introducing them to you, in this space, over the next couple of weeks.

Tom Turner is first up! Please welcome Tom.  

Kenton: Hi Tom! Thank you for taking the time to talk. We’re thrilled to have you join us at Backcountry Journeys! Talk a bit, if you would, about yourself… Where did you grow up? Where has life taken you over the years? If you have lived in multiple locations, which was your favorite spot along the way, and why?
Tom: Hi Kenton, thanks for welcoming me. Yeah, I have lived all over. I grew up in West Texas in the small town of Sweetwater. Sweetwater is a stark landscape. To the north and west, it’s flat all the way to the Llano Estacado and the south the hill country. The horizon line, the wind, the dust, and the smells of oil and feedlots were constants in the landscape throughout my childhood. Now the sweeping blades of the giant windmills dominate the horizon. Sweetwater is a wonderfully bizarre little place.

I have lived all over Texas, In San Antonio, Austin, DFW, Lubbock, and Tyler. I have also spent time in Ventura, California, Flint, Michigan, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. I don’t have a favorite location where I have lived. I love them all for the memories that they evoke and the people I have met. But living in Alaska now, I do miss good tacos!

That is certainly a fair cross-section of places you’ve lived. You are now in Alaska, then? I think it is pretty easy for people to “romanticize” living in Alaska. What are your thoughts? Is Alaska for everyone, and what is your favorite part about living there?
Yes, I live in Eagle River, Alaska. It’s a delightful community on the north side of JBER (Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson) just outside of Anchorage. I am a school teacher in the Anchorage School District. I have only been here for three years. So I’m still getting to know it. I love living here. The changing landscape consistently draws my gaze. This is what I love the most. It is easy to romanticize living in a beautiful landscape. And in general, it is all that you might expect. But, there are some drawbacks. You realize you are on the end of the supply chain pretty quickly. For instance, I tried to order a few new camera batteries and couldn’t get them shipped up because of the lithium-ion batteries’ FAA rules. There is a feast/famine approach to fresh vegetables in the winter months. When you go shopping, you need to eat the veg within a few days or it starts going bad. This was a considerable change from San Antonio, where fresh veg was less than a day from the farm, even in the winter. Another drawback to AK is what my wife and I call the Alaska tax. This is all of the equipment you need to go on adventures in the far north; Snow Shoes, ATVs, Snow Machines, Sleds, etc. We are slowly investing in our Alaska Tax.

Haha! The ‘Alaska Tax,’ I love it. You have to pay to play up there, for sure. You have an extensive background in Photography, from impressive education to teaching professionally, work as a photojournalist, and on and on… I think BCJ guests who travel with you as their guide will be in store for a really wonderful time as well as incredible learning experiences. Can you expand a bit on what you’ve learned over the years, and how you apply those things every day as an artist?
Yes, thank you, photography has been my way in for some time now. I approach the world through my lens. I learned a long time ago that being creative is a practice. Like any skill or activity, you have to do it every day. I’m not saying that you have to click the shutter every day or tone the latest set of images. But you should take time in your day to flex your creative muscles. Look at photographs on the computer, go to the local museum, watch a documentary; whatever you do, whatever it is, deliberately form thoughts about what you see. Do you like it? What is being communicated? Is that communication effective? How might you make it differently?

I think of photography as a language. It’s something that most people have an instinctual understanding of. But there are specific dialects in every language. In photography, we have numerous vernacular languages; Instagram, the deadpan aesthetics, minimalistic landscape photograph, etc. To learn to speak these specific languages in Photography, the creator needs to practice and immerse themselves in it, looking at and taking pictures in that mode. This is all practice. All of that said, every day, I try to follow the ABC rule, Always Be Creating! (my apologies to any Glengarry Glen Ross fans).

This next question is going to sound pretty elementary: What about Photography do you love the most? What is it that keeps you coming back for more?
This is not an elementary question! This is the heart, the why of our passion! I love the experience of creating the metaphor. When you are in the field, you connect with the landscape. You are attempting to capture the moment, tell the story, be as present in the experience as you can be. But once you get back to the studio, you have to connect with those ideas you were experiencing in the field. You have to complete the loop. I keep coming back to it because of that impulse to finish the cycle. I get a real thrill out of that.

If you could blame (err…Attribute) a single person, event, or experience that most influenced your career as a photographer, who or what would that be?
Simple, I blame it all on my mentor Timothy O. Sutherland. He shared his passion for photography when I was young. I have lots of other influences, but Tim was the guy that showed me how to fall in love with the print.

You spent time as a photojournalist. Can you discuss the challenges in photojournalism and compare that type of photo work with what you are doing now?
That’s a big one; in photojournalism, you have to work quickly. You often don’t have time to plan. It’s a bit responsive. The primary challenge in photojournalism is storytelling. I think of PJ shooting as compressing story elements. The more story elements that I can put in a single picture, the more impact it will have. For instance, in this image following Hurricane Ike (Rusk Ike Recovery in 2008), you see a classic photojournalism example. A disaster struck the area, power was still out, and the hardware store had a truckload of generators shipped in from Dallas. When I drove into the town, they were unloading them and selling them off of the back of the truck. So I jumped up, turned on the camera, and took some pictures of the event. Dewayne Delaney is working hard unloading generators. The street is busy, and Delaney is active. To emphasize the activity of the event, I canted the angel of the horizon. This made it feel like he was unbalanced, and the image is more dynamic. But all of this is happening at the instinctual level. Photojournalism is spontaneous.

The images that I am making now are conceptual landscape images. There is some responsiveness, but it never gets in the way of the final product. If the focus/exposure/lens choice is a little off in photojournalism, it’s ok. In conceptual work, everything is thought out and considered. If it doesn’t work in any one specific, then none of it works. I have work I have been struggling with for years. I will go back and think it through, re-tone and re-print and tweak until the images are conceptually perfect.

It’s a much more frustrating mode of work, but it’s much more rewarding to me.

Do you have a favorite image in your portfolio?
I’m not sure that I have a favorite. But I love (Registered Mountain 01, 2018). I have been looking at it a lot lately. I also love this video work I made in Yosemite on the morning after getting married under Lower Yosemite Falls, (Yosemite Mists, 2015). Something is mesmerizing to me about this work.

Do you hold it in higher regard because of the technical aspects of the image, or maybe for other reasons like how it came about, or how you were feeling when the moment happened for you?
It’s all in there for both images. But I have been looking at them lately for information on where I am going next. I believe in the idea that the direction of the next work is in the last work. I try to reflect on my older work so that I know where I am going.

Alaska has a TON to offer nature lovers, explorers, and photographers. Can you talk about finding inspiration in your particular surroundings?
You’re right! There is a ton of adventure in Alaska! I grew up in West Texas; the predominant feature of my childhood was the horizon line. And as all young teens do, I rebelled to the mountains and crags. I have always had a love affair with the muntin peaks. When I moved to Alaska, I was almost over stimulated. For me, the ideas and work are in every moment.

Canon, Nikon, Sony, or something else?
Over the years, I have shot both Nikon and Canon. The first digital camera I ever used was a Nikon D1 with a 2.7-megapixel sensor! I have taught many students with various systems and am familiar with Canon, Nikon, and Sony cameras. But I am currently shooting with a Phase One XF IQ3-50 digital camera. I bought it when I sold all of my stuff in Texas and moved to Alaska. I love the precision of this machine! I also have a Canon System that I love using. But I have been dabbling with an 8×10 field camera and making tintypes as well. So, it’s about finding the right tool for the job!

Do you feel your teaching experience gives you additional tools that will translate with guiding BCJ Tours?
I have been teaching photography in some capacity for over a decade. In that time, I have worked with everything from one-on-one instruction to class sizes of up to 150 students. I love the small group and one-on-one class size. This allows me to focus on problem-solving and getting students to reach their best potential.

What are you looking forward to most about working as a photo guide for Backcountry Journeys?
I love teaching to the small group. As I said, this class size offers time to find solutions. I am also looking forward to sharing the student’s photographic journey through one-on-one mentoring that will inevitably happen during these trips.

What would you teach beginner photographers to be most concerned about when working to develop their skills?
There are many schools of thought on where to start in teaching photography. My preferred starting point is composition. Modern cameras are pretty great. One of the auto modes will be adequate 80% of the time. So with that said, I study four or five of the compositional techniques and make pictures using those. Give yourself assignments where you make a few photos on your phone each day using these techniques. A second thing I advise beginners to do is slow down. The world isn’t going anywhere. Take it one step at a time. When learning any new skill, you start by walking, not running.

What are you most looking forward to in this new venture?
This is going to be such an extraordinary journey. I can’t wait to meet people and share magnificent places and my passion for photography with them.

Over the past, what, 11 months its been pretty difficult to say anything with any kind of certainty, but you do have an idea as to when our guests might see you “in the field” with Backcountry Journeys?
Shadow Trips: Night Skies of the Southwest March 7-14; Spring in Yosemite (Standard) April 26th – May 1st.
Guiding Trips: Mountains & Landscapes of Alaska – July 17th-23rd; Brown Bears of Katmai: Brooks Lodge – July 24th to 28th

Will you eventually be running a fair number of trips for BCJ, or are you balancing this with other work?
I currently work as a Photography, Graphic Arts, & Art Teacher in the Anchorage School District. I will be taking on trips as that schedule allows.

Thanks again, Tom! We’re excited to have you out in the field representing Backcountry Journeys. Your take on the art of photography combined with your ability to teach and understand individuals’ ‘why,’ will be a benefit to our guests as they continue their own photographic journey. Our guests will be in great hands when on a tour/workshop with you.

Check out Tom’s work at: https://tomturnerphotography.com.

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"Backcountry Journeys offers guests the unique opportunity to explore our natural world from behind their own lens. We run a selection of hand-crafted Photo Tours, Workshops & Safaris connecting passionate people to exceptional experiences. Locations include Yosemite, Alaska, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, Hawaii, Utah as well as Botswana & Costa Rica."

- Russ Nordstrand, Backcountry Journeys Founder & Director
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Download our Trip Catalog for detailed information on our many destinations for photography tours, workshops, and safaris.

All Images & Content are property of Backcountry Photography Tours, Workshops & Safaris LLCs - Copyright 2023
"Backcountry Journeys offers guests the unique opportunity to explore our natural world from behind their own lens. We run a selection of hand-crafted Photo Tours, Workshops & Safaris connecting passionate people to exceptional experiences. Locations include Yosemite, Alaska, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, Hawaii, Utah as well as Botswana & Costa Rica."
All Images & Content are property of Backcountry Journeys Photography Tours, Workshops & Safaris LLC - Copyright 2023
8am to 4pm Mountain Time


Download our Trip Catalog for detailed information on our many destinations for photography tours, workshops, and safaris.