Science and art mix to enrich the life of Steve Gould

Steve Gould was born in New York and moved to Los Angeles when he was 10. A product of the Sputnik era, he was drawn to science and was educated at UCLA, MIT, and in Switzerland at the ETH. He spent most of his science career as a chemistry professor at Oregon State University and the University of Connecticut.

Moving to Carmel Valley in 2002 and retiring here in 2003, Gould has created “life after life” with landscape and nature photography, and volunteering with local nonprofit organizations. He is active in a number of art organizations, including The PhotoArts Group, Allied Artists Association of San Diego, Digital Art Guild and the San Diego Museum of Art Artists Guild.

Gould has been awarded numerous prizes in exhibitions in San Diego County. His images can be viewed at

  1. He is also a volunteer at Scripps Memorial Hospital, visiting Jewish patients on behalf of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

What brought you to this area?

I moved here from New Jersey with my wife, Mary, in 2002 to join a small biotech as their Chief Scientific Officer. They had serious financial problems in 2003 and drastically changed their plans, and a CSO was no longer needed. Mary and I loved San Diego so much that we decided to just retire here and put our energies into new directions. It’s my third time as a Californian; I’ve been a Californian at heart since my family moved from New York to LA in 1956. We’re staying in San Diego.

What makes this town special to you?

We love that it is so relaxing to just stay at home and enjoy this great weather. Carmel Valley is centrally located to all the things we love to do and places to go to in San Diego — that includes Torrey Pines State Reserve (where we’ve both been volunteer docents), and State Beach, Del Mar beach and Powerhouse Park, Pacific Athletic Club, and Los Penasquitos Canyon.

A bit further away, we go to The Folk Dance Center in Normal Heights for international folk dance (My wife Mary teaches folk dance and plays in Balkan music bands for weekend dances), and to Balboa Park for walks, the zoo, and theater, and to the Moonlight Beach area in Encinitas. At most, it’s only a 15- to 25-minute drive to any of them, depending upon the time of the day.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in the area?

The politics and financing in California ... When I went to UCLA in the early 1960s, California had built the greatest higher education system in the world and was benefitting tremendously from the enormous, educated work force it was creating. At that time there was no tuition to go to a UC campus. I only paid student incidental fees of $120/semester. Proposition 13 came at a time that something was needed, but I believe it was/is a bad law and created at least as many problems as it solved. There have been important unintended consequences.

What inspires you?

It’s nature: landscapes and underwaterscapes. I’ve been hiking since my early teens. I’m an avid SCUBA diver and do a lot of underwater photography. The diversity of ecosystems provides endless inspiration.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

The people I would choose have been or are great thinkers and have excelled in two or more areas. There would be photographers Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, and Robert Glenn Ketchum, paleontologist/Harvard Professor and author Stephen Jay Gould (we knew each other and talked about somehow writing a scientific paper together, but he passed away before we ever figured out what it would be about), Jacques Cousteau, Jonas Salk, Bill Gates, and Vincent van Gogh.

Tell us about what you are currently reading.

I’m usually reading a number of books at the same time. Right now, I’m re-reading “The Crystal Desert, Summers in Antarctica” by David G. Campbell. We went to Antarctica, The Falklands, and South Georgia this past January, and had the most awesome 26 days of my life; I am having a solo show of my photographs from this trip at Gallery 21 in Balboa Park in August.

I’m also reading “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” a novel about the creation of Renoir’s famous painting, by Susan Vreeland; “Anathem,” which is a fascinating piece of science fiction by Neal Stephenson; and “The Genesis of Justice” by Alan Dershowitz.

What is your most-prized possession?

On a philosophical level, it would be our American Civil Liberties, which are so important to what has made this country so great. On a material level, it would be the professional wide-format printer my wife gave me for my 60th birthday. Not only do I get great satisfaction taking pictures, but also developing the images into works of art and then printing them for others to enjoy, too.

What do you do for fun?

SCUBA diving; travel, such as our recent trip to Antarctica; hiking; and walking on our local beaches — all of which I combine with my photography.

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

Actually, there are two. First, training and mentoring young scientists during my 23 years as a chemistry professor. In addition to technical skills and scientific knowledge, I taught them a philosophy of science and of life. Many of my former graduate students and postdoctoral associates still stay in touch with me.

Second, transitioning from my former life in science and education to my new life in photography and volunteer work: what I call “life after life.” My photography — my art — has become a wonderful new career for me.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

To do the most and best I can with the abilities I have, being grounded in a community and giving to it, and (as one of my favorite uncles used to say) “You never know when your bad luck will turn out to be your good luck.”