Minden photographer captures Valley | RecordCourier.com

Minden photographer captures Valley

by Lisa Gavon
Minden residents Tina Fixman and Jay Aldrich.

Remarkably, it happened again and again. We would open The Record-Courier to find a photo that would take our breath away. In old-fashioned newspaper tradition, we would pass it around, marveling that a portrait or shot of a building could be so compelling. A perfect balance was present in each composition, just as there is in life, of both the deepest darkness and the most illuminating light. We also found these images in brochures and fliers. They popped off the page: demanding your attention. When we looked to find the name of the photographer, it was always Jay Aldrich. So, when we met him and his wife Tina Fixman in the early 1980s, his reputation had preceded him.

It was obvious to me that both Jay and Tina were talented, dedicated, passionate about their chosen fields, their lives, and their family.

Jay originally came to visit his sister in Genoa, and his first job was developing film, making half-tones, and running the process camera “old-school style” at The R-C. At that time, Tina was an UNR extension agent. They met on a blind date set up by a mutual friend. It was a small town then, and they already had some knowledge of each other. The first date didn’t go so well, but as time passed, something went very right. They were married on the lawn at the family ranch north of Genoa, and had their reception at the Town Hall.

Jay was raised in a newspaper family, so deadlines and last minute assignments were in his blood. Growing up, he often delivered papers or worked the press. Born in Oakland, his father was a circulation manager and his mother sold ads. His uncle was a commercial photographer and Jay spent time in the darkroom watching the magical processes of developing and printing back when it was most closely related to magic. Perhaps it is here that he became initiated into the sorcery that vintage photographic processes demanded.

Far from the instantaneous images we get today, it required constant dedication and attention to detail. He even learned how to “dodge a print” (a way of correcting exposure variations) with his hands. To anyone who has ever been in a traditional darkroom, you know how much skill and talent this would take. His family moved to Aptos and ran the County News: it was from this home base that Jay eventually set out into the world.

At the age of 19, he became a counselor at a private summer camp in the redwoods near Freedom, Calif. Jay originated a program where campers would glue together pieces of wood to make impressionistic sculptures and collages. It became one of the camp’s favorite activities. He worked both as a mentor and tutor for adolescents while attending City College of San Francisco, and as a counselor at a High Sierra YMCA camp.

The big game changer came when he went to live with a family in France, studying at the school for foreign students, becoming fluent in the language. Jay says that you cannot understand your own country until you live in another. The family he stayed with was large, and would have deep philosophical discussions over dinner, giving him a broader view of his own life, and of people. The home cooking was incredible, and art was everywhere. Even the smaller galleries had originals by Picasso. He included travel to North Ireland, Germany, and England, but spent the majority of his time in Paris.

Jay continued his studies at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz, and then at University of Oregon as a French major. He got a job in Eugene shooting page negatives and doing lithography for the local paper. Following that he was employed as a planer in the local lumber mill on the swing shift. In 1972 he lost his shirt working on a fishing boat in Alaska. All these experiences, including, most significantly, losing his father when he was 25, motivated an important period of introspection. Going to help his mother with the transition, they traveled to Asia, where he put together a portfolio of moving images from yet another, ever-deepening perspective.

Tina grew up in Cañon City and attended Colorado State University, receiving a degree in horticulture. After her agricultural extension position, she ran a perennial nursery called Garden’s West in 1988. It was a memorable place, filled with Tina’s high energy, intensity of spirit, and the healthiest local plants you have ever seen. Every single plant I purchased there not only survived, but thrived. For many years she ran the landscape construction crew out of the Greenhouse Garden Center in Carson City, but her own landscaping business has remained the constant, and it is even busier today than it ever was, with three trucks and two trailers out everyday.

It was 1983 when Jay Aldrich Photography was launched. He shot all of the yearly Almanac as a freelancer, and became well-known for his acuity and technique. Both Tina and Jay worked the extra time required to run their own businesses, adapting their hours so they could be present for raising their son Jazz, born in 1981, and daughter Abby, born in 1983. Both love being parents, and their children, and now grandchildren, reflect that joy.

Jay said people are what photography is about: both as viewers, and as subjects. He is mesmerized by the varying qualities of light, and has been chasing a particular aspen grove since the late ’70s. He has studied the transition of color, the movement of luminescence across the leaves, and tried to capture that perfect representation. These are the projects that bring him into the “zone,” where nuance is discovered and personal epiphanies are made evident.

“I just don’t think about motivations or concepts. Life moves too fast. I’m driven to catch the moments.” Jay explained. “Photography is therapy for me. It helps me to understand myself and others. I like to say that it opens never-ending doors of perception. Looking at a scene poses a multitude of ways to compose it — that’s exciting for me. Technically, I facetiously have said that if I could just blink my eye to take a picture that would be lots better than a clunky camera. However, now as we rapidly approach eye-blink exposure through the never-ending digital explosion: I don’t think so!”

Carson Valley is fortunate to have such an astute visionary to capture the beauty, personalities, and history here.

Many from a traditional photography background balk at the coming of the digital age, but Jay has had no problems with the transition. “Just do it!” was his quote. His website is jayaldrich.com with both inspiring and stunning images in categories including people, corporate, Great Basin, and the High Sierra.