Rfotofolio is honored to share a tribute to photographer Ray McSavaney from John Sexton and Richard Garrod.
A Tribute from John Sexton
REMEMBERING RAY McSAVANEY
PHOTOGRAPHER, EDUCATOR, AUTHOR, AND FRIEND
DECEMBER 18, 1938 – JULY 2, 2014
Some of you are already aware of this, but our dear friend Ray left this world early last Wednesday morning. Ray was diagnosed with lymphoma about one year ago. After lengthy stays in the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, and chemotherapy treatments, Ray seemed as if he was in remission. As Ray slowly regained his strength over the months he began to once again make photographs, and work in his darkroom. It appeared as if all was going well. This spring Ray began to quickly lose his newfound energy, and a PET scan revealed that his lymphoma had returned in a different area. Ray carefully considered the treatment options in consultation with his physicians and trusted friends. He decided radiation therapy was the path he wanted to follow. Ray completed his 22nd, and final, radiation treatment three weeks ago. Ray was never able to return home, to the loft he had occupied in Los Angeles for thirty years, after being hospitalized for his radiation treatments in mid-May. Sadly, the radiation treatments did not produce the hoped for result.
Ray was a humble, unassuming, quiet person, and a bit of an enigma. I am hoping that I can give you a glimpse into Ray’s personality and unique qualities in the text that follows. His talents were considerable, and his generosity and loyalty were exceptional. If you didn’t have the opportunity to ever meet Ray, let me introduce you to my friend…
I first met Ray McSavaney in April 1974, just over forty years ago. We were both participants in the Ansel Adams Gallery Spring Workshop in Yosemite Valley. We were randomly assigned as roommates during the workshop. We were surprised that we lived less than ten miles apart in the greater Los Angeles area. I was a twenty-one year old long-haired photography major at Cypress College, and Ray a thirty-five year old urban planner who wore a coat and tie to his job at Archisystems – a company owned by Howard Hughes. (A job that Ray left a few years later to pursue photography full-time). Aside from our passion for photography, and love of Yosemite, it might seem as if we had little in common. Neither of us could have imagined how that weeklong workshop experience would change our photography as well as our lives, or that this unlikely pair would become such close friends. A few months later we rendezvoused in Yosemite again for the first, of many, photography trips we would share together over the years.
It was through Ray, that I met his photographer friend, Bruce Barnbaum. In 1975 Ray and Bruce offered their first workshop together under the mantle of the Owens Valley Photography Workshops. During their second workshop, in 1976, I was invited to stop by as guest presenter for portion of that workshop. Everything seemed to go well, and in the fall Ray and Bruce asked me to be a guest instructor for the entire weeklong workshop in Bishop, California. The following year Ray and Bruce invited me to join them as a co-director of the Owens Valley Photography Workshops program. I was honored to be a part of their team. In retrospect I think that perhaps Ray and Bruce were wiser than me. They realized it was better to loose money three ways, rather than two!!! In any event, the workshops grew into one of the premier workshop programs, and we served as co-directors until the end of 1990-when we decided to each embark on our own workshop program. Ray and I continued to offer many workshops together over the years that followed. In addition Ray taught workshops with many fine photographers, writers, and painters including: Paul Caponigro, John Nichols, Philip Hyde, Robert Glenn Ketchum, Richard Garrod, Carol Brown, Neil Chapman, Norman Locks, Ken Karagozian, Jack Waltman, and others.
For those of you that did not know Ray, you must understand that he was a man of few words. A phone conversation with Ray included a considerable percentage of listening to the background phone transmission noise. I used to joke with Ray, that I should get a reduced rate on my long distance phone bill when I called him, as the phone line was available for others to use for a good portion of the call! Ray would quietly, and politely, chuckle at my attempted humor. That being said, when Ray had something to say, it was nearly always worth listening to. Sometimes Ray could quiet a boisterous workshop group with a soft word or two. Ray could cause a group of friends to erupt in explosive laughter with his unexpected, and understated, dry sense of humor. Ray and I felt that the two of us teaching together made for an unexpectedly effective teaching team. I can say that every workshop that I taught with Ray was a learning experience for me–along with the workshop students.
Ray was a gifted, generous, and patient teacher. His insightful critiques of participant photographs may have, at times, been short on words, but they were always rich with sage advice that he so freely shared with students. Our comments about a particular participant’s portfolio would, more often than not, be in generally agreement, but on the occasions when our reactions differed – a lively discussion with the maker of the photographs, as well as the other workshop participants, ensued. During the print critiques Ray would often drop his glasses down on his nose–peering over his lenses–to closely study a print at length in total silence. Then with an economy of words he would cut directly to the core of the photographer’s intent in making the image.
I was honored to teach so many workshops with Ray over the years. During a recent phone conversation with Ray we determined that we had taught nearly fifty workshops together over the decades! It was hard to imagine, but both of our memories were full of vivid images of hard work, laughter, challenges, and most of all the rewards of seeing students’ photographs improve-perhaps because of some advice, or suggestion, that one of us might have offered. Our group of friends is, in large part, from the workshop participants we each had the privilege to work with.
Ray and I shared countless adventures over the past four decades. Many of those were in the spectacular canyon country of the Southwest. It was often necessary to lend a helping hand to one another when navigating over rugged terrain. At times we pulled, pushed, and shoved each other, along with our camera packs and tripods, over boulders, ledges, and other obstacles in order to reach our desired destination. As neither of us were particularly good at climbing, we often used the “flying butt arrest” technique for descents, and our method of ascending a steep canyon wall might best be described as groveling. We sometimes competed in the not so graceful sport of “rock swimming.” (You figure out what that would look like!).
We survived a couple of flash floods, and spent most of a day reconstructing a dirt road that had washed out at multiple creek crossings when an unexpected torrential downpour stranded us and our vehicles – it wasn’t pretty but we made it back to pavement. On one of our backpacking trips Ray surprised everyone with a bottle of chardonnay – chilled in the only spring in the area – on a sweltering afternoon in a desolate, but beautiful canyon in Utah… and Ray didn’t usually drink wine! The evening before we all “enjoyed” water filtered from a small pool that seemed to contain more cow urine than water. It was the only water source near our camp. Amazingly we didn’t get sick, and it actually tasted pretty good!
We fixed flat tires together – even when the spare was also flat! We got lost together, but always found our way back safely. We crawled beneath windows while photographing in a burned house to avoid detection by neighbors. We studied topographic maps in camp for hours as we tried to decide on the location for our next hike. You might think did you guys ever argue or have disagreements? We did. There were the typical little misunderstandings and miscommunications, but I vividly remember three real knock down drag out fights. However, in each instance we resolved our disagreements quickly, and put the incident behind us. Those really heated exchanges never impaired our relationship. They might have even strengthened whatever bond kept us as friends. We laughed together, and cried together. In my book, we were simply great friends together.
Ray approached photography, and life, in a slow and methodical manner. He had countless talents. He was a fine chef, a talented woodworker, he designed and hand crafted clamshell portfolio boxes, was trained in the army as a cartographer, was a talented typographer, and an incisive writer. Once Ray felt passion for a particular photograph, or project, he became obsessed, and there was no stopping him from reaching his goal. His intense dedication was an inspiration to Anne and me, and many others that new Ray. He had the uncommon ability to shed the encumbrances of normal day-to-day life, and focus on whatever was the subject of his attention. On occasion, Ray would overlook the normal daily tasks that occupy so much of our lives. This did not always make things easy for Ray or his friends, and on occasion he found himself in a “complicated” financial situation. Unfortunately, such was the case at the end of Ray’s life. That being said, I respected his single-minded dedication to the things that were important in his life, and this most often was making photographs, or printing new negatives in his darkroom.
His ability to handle disparate subject matter with grace was impressive. Ray is best known for his black and white silver gelatin prints, but his color images, as well as his little known drawings, are amazing. His subjects included the natural landscape, revealing portraits, urban architectural studies, botanical images, along with a huge body of work that he did in the magical Southwest. I know of few photographers who could make such consistently beautiful images of such diverse subjects. I envy, and respect, his photographic abilities.
Anne and I will miss Ray dearly.
To see more of Ray’s images, and to learn more about our good friend, please visit Ray’s web site, Ray McSavaney Photography .
PRESERVING RAY McSAVANEY’S PHOTOGRAPHIC LEGACY
Ray was a prolific photographer having made more 50,000 4×5″ negatives during his life. Self-promotion or business activities seldom made it to the top of Ray’s priority list. He would prefer to make photographs, or spend time exploring a new negative in the darkroom, rather than printing an older negative that could potentially pay the bills. This sometimes created financial challenges for Ray.
Unfortunately, Ray’s financial situation over the past year was dire as his primary source of income was from his photography, and he was only able to make a small number of prints during the brief period he was strong enough to work. Other than his photography his only income was his monthly Social Security check.
About a year ago, when Ray was first diagnosed with lymphoma, Ray’s longtime friend Ben Silverman opened a special “Friends of Ray” bank account to allow friends to help meet the financial challenges the illness and recuperation presented. Recently a small group of Ray’s close friends made additional donations to the fund when – with Ray’s full agreement – the purpose of the fund was expanded to help protect and preserve Ray’s photographic archive. After a great deal of effort on the part of a number of people, Ray assigned Ken Karagozian as the caretaker of his photographic archives. Most of Ray’s photographic materials are in safe temporary storage with a goal to place the archive with an institution that will be able to preserve his prints, negatives, and related materials, into the future. The organizing, sorting, storing, and placement process will be complex and costly. If you are inclined to contribute to the “Friends of Ray” fund, donations in any amount are welcomed and greatly appreciated. If you would like to send a check the mailing address is also included below. PayPal payments are also welcome.
I hope that some readers will want to make a donation – small or large – to help with the efforts to preserve Ray’s photographic heritage for others to enjoy, and be inspired by, in the future.
Please make your check payable to “Friends of Ray”, and mail it to:
Friends of Ray
c/o John Sexton Photography
Post Office Box 30
Carmel Valley, CA 93924
PayPal donations can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please reference “Friends of Ray” in your PayPal payment
While Ray may not have often tooted his own horn, he did not hide his work from the eyes of others. He had many exhibitions of his photographs over the years. His photographs and article graced the pages of numerous magazines. His prints are in public and private collections through the US, and abroad.
In 1992 a beautiful retrospective monograph of Ray’s work, Explorations, was published. It was superbly printed by Gardner Lithograph, and includes over sixty of Ray’s stunning black and white photographs, along with a foreword by well-known author John Nichols, and insightful essays by Ray.
From now until July 31, 2014 Ventana Editions will donate 100% of the net profit from the sale of Ray’s book Explorations to the “Friends of Ray” fund. You can purchase Explorations at the Ventana Editions online store. I am sorry, but the only books available for sale are UNsigned copies. It will likely be a couple of weeks before we will have these books ready to ship. Your patience is greatly appreciated. This is a fantastic way to get a beautiful book of Ray’s images, and help ensure that Ray’s photographs can live on for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
You can purchase Explorations, and help contribute to efforts to preserve Ray’s photographic legacy at the
Ventana Editions online store. Ventana Editions
IN BEAUTY MAY I WALK
I want to share some thoughts that Ray found comforting during a difficult time a number of years ago. Ray and I, along with a couple of other friends, first encountered these words – excerpted and translated from the Navajo Night Way ceremony – on a sign at a trailhead in southeastern Utah. We read them together, and wrote them down. I hope that you, too, will find comfort and peace in this wonderful chant.
In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.
With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
A TRIBUTE TO RAY FROM FRIEND RICHARD GARROD
A few days ago I received a kind email about Ray’s passing from our mutual friend, Richard Garrod. Ray and Dick were friends for many years, and taught a photography workshop together in Canyonlands in 1991. Dick celebrated his 90th birthday last month, and he is still going strong exposing film and producing silver gelatin prints in his darkroom. He has been doing such for more than seventy years. Like Ray, Dick is a real inspiration!
With Dick’s permission, I would like to share some of his thoughts about our friend, Ray McSavaney:
Ray truly dedicated his life to his creativity in photography. We are all much richer in our own love for that medium because of what Ray has contributed to the art over so many years. His sacrifice in this world was to primarily concentrate on his love for image making, and to pass this along through his other love for teaching– generously sharing his methods and feelings for photography with his students. May the beauty of his work and life be appropriately seen by those of us who love photography as he did.
Photographer, Author, Educator
I would like to thank Neil Chapman, Ken Karagozian, and Ben Silverman for allowing me to use their portraits of Ray.
During the past year there were many people who helped Ray with good wishes, notes, letters, phone calls, financial support, and so much more. I feel comfortable in speaking for Ray to communicate a hearty thank you to all of those people. In addition, there was a small group of Ray’s close friends who helped Ray in ways that were far above and beyond the call of friendship. I would like to acknowledge those individuals. They are, in alphabetical order, Carol Brown, Kearnes Branham, Sam and Joann Hay, Ken and Tammy Karagozian, Anne Larsen, Craig Fucile and Judy Finch, Chris Purcell, Ben and Joyce Silverman, and Jack and Beverly Waltman. If I have omitted anyone, and the list is incomplete, I apologize. Fortunately, Ray knows the entire, and correct, list by heart.
I also want to extend special thanks to Ken and Tammy Karagozian for so generously undertaking the responsibility of being the caretakers of Ray’s photographic archive. Their efforts are essential to keeping Ray’s luminous legacy alive for others to enjoy in the future.
Thank you John for sharing with Rfotofolio.
To learn more about John Sexton please visit his site at, John Sexton.
To learn more about Richard Garrod please visit his site at, Richard Garrod.
To learn more about Ray McSavaney please visit his site at, Ray McSavaney
2 thoughts on “Ray McSavaney, A Tribute from John Sexton”
John’s and Dick’s words form such a profoundly moving tribute. Reading them I felt their deep love and respect for their friend Ray and my heart was touched, too.
Thank you Barbara.