Solana Beach artist captures Alaska’s magical light


An exhibition featuring the work of photographer Peter Fay is currently on display at the Rancho Santa Fe Library. Entitled “Alaska - The Light,” the show includes 11 photos taken over a two and a half week period in 2007 when Fay toured the Alaska passage between Sitka, Juno and Mt. McKinley.

“I was able to get very deep into the Denali National Park, which is a huge, wonderful national park,” Fay said.

Capturing the images was no easy feat, Fay said. Despite 19 hours of daylight, constant cloud cover on the peaks makes visibility very limited. He was on standby for many of the shoots, waiting for a pilot to call and say it was clear enough for their tiny plane to take off.

One such call came at 7:30 p.m. one night.

“We hustle down to the airstrip and get on what I would characterize as a life-threatening flight,” Fay said. “With hail hitting the windshield and the clouds shifting and converging, the pilot was looking for a gap. We punch through (the clouds) and we spend 30 seconds looking at the peak.”

Fay, who is also the co-owner of Ordover Gallery in Solana Beach, had better luck photographing the valley glaciers.

“The imagery of the valleys themselves was just magnificent,” he said. “I was going crazy taking these pictures.”

Some of the exhibit photos capture the Alaskan landscape and tiny fishing villages.

One of the most significant factors that impacted this series of photographs, Fay said, was the quality of the Alaska’s natural light.

“The one quality there was the sun,” he said. “With 19 hours, it truly never gets dark. Many, many of those hours the sun is at low angles. You have very shallow light, which tends to create a bit of dramatic scenery. Shadows tend to show up. The sun, at low angels, is ‘sweet’ light. The quality of the light is also different because we’re photographing at high altitudes.

“The lighting conditions were absolutely wonderful, but I cannot downplay in any manner the splendor, the magnificence of this huge, incredible piece of land. The emptiness and the wilderness and the natural aspect of it is incredible.”

Fay, 75, is self-taught and began shooting as a recreational photographer about 10 years ago. After he left the engineering field to become a consultant, the Solana Beach resident had more time to pursue his hobby.

“It just grabbed a hold of me slowly,” Fay said. “I’ve always been an avid photographer, but more in the league of a snap shooter.”

Fay combines his love of photography with a passion for global travel. His Web site,, features landscapes and portraiture from China, Cuba, Spain, Peru and Mexico. He said his work has been inspired by the likes of Ansel Adams, Art Wolfe and Gary Ladd.

“I’m what you call totally eclectic in my coverage,” he said. “I’m always seeking new ground and new expression.”

Six years ago Fay began using a digital Canon camera. He processes his photos with Adobe Photoshop.

“The thing I found going from film to digital was it gave me a whole new experience,” he said. “In film, you’re more involved with the capture and then others took care of the developing and printmaking, whereas now, the joy of digital is I can control the entire process.”

Fay said there has been a great amount of philosophical debate over the issue of image manipulation with digital photography. To him, it’s not a valid argument because, he said, even traditional darkroom processing is a form of image manipulation.

“First of all, the capture is not an authentic translation,” Fay said. “The camera interprets the subject. A lot of photographers I’ve spoken with feel it is the photographer’s right to interpret.

“I’m trying to instill some emotional component in the work. And, I try almost to have some of my work blur the difference between pure photography and a painting. At other times, if I do portraiture, I’m razor sharp. I’m looking for a different thing in portraiture - to bring out that person. The face is a road map.”