As some of you might now, I spent a few years of my youth living in Dell City, TX (a small West Texas community between Carlsbad, NM and El Paso, TX along US Highway 62-180). During those years, my family and I made some lifelong friends. Melanie Gentry of Luz Del Valle Images is one of these friends, and in our adult years we’ve been brought back in contact with one another through our common passion for landscape photography. I have had the privilege to tag along with Melanie on several occasions recently and photograph some of this vast landscape of our beautiful state.
Melanie is in the process of releasing a book that shares some of this countries history through the research of Mrs. Oleeta Etcheverry and her photographs. I wanted to chat with her about her art and this project, the following is the interview I had with her on June 8, 2018. I hope you enjoy the interview and consider supporting her project.
Q. What’s your background with photography and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve had an interest in photography since childhood. My grandmother gave me a Kodak Brownie StarFlash camera when I was in elementary school and I graduated to a 35mm SLR by high school.
I really became serious about it when I studied agricultural communications at Texas Tech University and photography was among the offerings.
My aunt, Alice Shelton, was the designated family photographer and had learned how to develop and enlarge her own photos, so when she encountered issues with her eyesight she decided to sell her equipment. My parents new that I was enjoying my photography classes and bought her equipment and gave it to me for Christmas my sophomore year at Tech.
I absolutely loved processing negatives and prints in the dark room, but at the same time Photoshop was just launched so I learned the digital darkroom techniques we use today and I enjoyed that process too. Back then we would shoot and print our images and scan, crop and make adjustments for publication design and layouts.
When I graduated from Texas Tech, I launched a marketing and communications consulting business with my Mom and have provided grant writing, marketing, design and photography services for the last 18 years.
We lost my Dad 25 years ago and I turned to photographing sunsets as a coping mechanism. Looking back, I’m certain that my grandmother knew photography was my calling and that it would be the one constant in my life! I am so humbled and blessed by all that her gift has given me.
Q. As evident in your book that is coming out, you have a great love of photographing landscapes, but do you do other types of photography as well?
I offer natural light portraiture and commercial photography services including product, real-estate, special event and equine photography.
Lightning and storm photography is my true dealing mechanism. There is something about watching a powerful monsoon storm build and roll across the desert lowlands that just puts things into perspective for me. These storms can be so powerful, chaotic and destructive, but at the same time there is pure beauty and tranquility within them.
Q. What’s the best way for folks who would like to support your work to back you in your current project?
The most difficult part of self-publishing is meeting the printing costs upfront, and there have also been several people who want to see our local history preserved and they have contributed to the project. I haven’t asked for “donations” in the traditional sense because I believe there are far more important causes people can support in that way and I want anyone who contributes to have something in return so I am doing pre sales. I’ve been tied up on a couple of other projects and have not had a chance to update the total raised, but we are about $500 out from meeting the goal on printing costs.
Anyone who would like to have a little bit of our area’s history in print can visit the book project page to learn more: http://www.luzdelvalleimages.com/book-project/
Helping to get the word out about the project is also a great way to provide support.
Q. Any other projects in the works you share with us at this time?
Photography is a lifelong learning process and for me the satisfaction comes from the journey to perfect the process. I taught media technology at Dell City ISD for two years in the mid 90’s and I loved the interactive, hands-on side of teaching. It was rewarding to see a creative spark emerge into a burning passion in some of my students. So that is something I wanted to get back to in some way, so I just launched an educational portal as an off-shoot to my commercial photography business – Luz Del Valle Images.
It’s called Show Up & Shoot!
The main goal is to lessen the frustration of getting off auto mode for beginners and amateur photographers and help them realize a unique creative style. Taking control of the camera is a big step – when you can read the light and dial in manual settings everything else starts to become second nature.
I’ll be adding free content on SAUS as a way of paying it forward, but I also have the cost of running a business to consider so I offer a variety of paid options for folks who want to take their photography to semi-pro or pro level. Those services range from group or private tours and workshops to on site coaching and virtual mentoring for individuals.
Q. Any other comments you’d like to share with folks out there that might be reading this and have an interest in photography?
Photography is both my dealing mechanism and a source of income I have learned over time not to get too caught up in the chase for the latest, greatest gadget. The best advice I can give anyone who is starting out is to find a camera that matches your skillset and then upgrade or add to your gear bag as you develop confidence and want to expand your skills and capabilities. The main thing is to find the style that fits you and then immerse yourself in the light and shadow. The fun is in the chase!
I have a lot of people ask me for tips on shooting lightning and I am reluctant to really share outside of a workshop setting because it is dangerous. If you’re going to shoot storms or lightning learn about storm development and movement and make safety your top priority! Please don’t get caught up in the moment and place yourself at greater risk. When I see images from novice shooters who put themselves in danger to get those shots it really rattles me. I had a couple of close calls last year – they were purely from the unpredictability of nature and not from carelessness. It didn’t discourage me from going out again, but I am very safety conscious so did make me look for ways to be better prepared.