Through the Lens of your Perception

Writer Joseph J. Airdo

Photography Courtesy of Sedona PhotoFest

Kelli Klymenko still has his first camera—an Olympus 35mm that he got when he was only 12 years old. The Sedona-based artist, who has also served as the marketing director for Sedona Arts Center for the past nine years, has been fascinated with photography ever since he took his very first snapshot.

“Photography is a passion of mine because it is a very quick and easy way to share your own personal vision,” Klymenko says. “I went to Parsons School of Design in New York and I love art in all of its forms. I draw, I paint and I sculpt. But at this time in my life, it is hard to have the time to do those things as much as I would like. Photography is an easy outlet for me to quickly share something beautiful.”

Klymenko’s passion has not only led him to photograph the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau’s national campaign a few years ago and teach an iPhoneography course at the Sedona Arts Center, but also to spearhead an effort to share the art of photography with the community at large.

Klymenko will present Sedona PhotoFest June 14 through 16 in Sedona. The event aims to educate and inspire photographers and enthusiasts of every level with seminars, presentations and workshops

Sedona PhotoFest initially made its debut in 2010 at the Sedona Arts Center. The venue hosted the event for a few years in a row, drumming up a lot of interest in photography as an art form. In 2016, Sedona PhotoFest went on an extended hiatus when Sedona Arts Center officials decided to decrease the overall number of events held at the facility.

“We have had a lot of people calling us and requesting the event to take place again,” says Klymenko, noting that the Sedona Arts Center does not have many photography classes or workshops aside from his iPhoneography course.

The public demand encouraged Klymenko to revive the event using his own resources and connections as well as the support of local and national sponsors. He partnered with Jordan Reece, a photojournalist and professional wedding and landscape photographer, to begin planning Sedona PhotoFest’s grand reintroduction.

“When most people think about Sedona, they think of nature photography,” says Klymenko, noting that the iconic shot of Cathedral Rock tends to be the most common image that comes to mind. “But we want to go beyond that. Sedona PhotoFest shares more creative photography than just landscape photography. We have night sky photography, we have aerial photography, we have photojournalism and portraiture. We try to cover a little bit of everything.”

This year’s seminars, presentations and workshops will be hosted at Mary D. Fisher Theatre during the morning hours of Saturday and Sunday, and at Courtyard by Marriott Sedona during the afternoon and evening hours of Friday and Saturday. Romy Reiner, daughter of filmmaker Rob Reiner, is among the many speakers who will be in attendance.

“Romy Reiner takes amazing photos,” Klymenko says. “She is a complete amateur photographer. She has no classical training except for a little bit of high school photography. She is just sharing her story. We take somebody like that and juxtapose her with speakers who have the professional photographer name badge.”

One such professional photographer is Sedona resident Bob Coates, who says that photography is all about being and staying creative. He does not specialize in any one type of photography because he believes each genre of photography informs the next and helps images jump off of the page.

“After 20-plus years as a professional photographer, I still find excitement in learning new ways to push those pixels around,” Coates says. “I am constantly pushing the envelope to get more depth and dimension into my imagery. Sometimes that means testing the limits of new camera technology or pushing software beyond the uses for which it was designed.”

Another professional photographer scheduled to speak during Sedona PhotoFest is Pam Taylor, a photojournalist who is also known for her performing arts and fine art photography. Taylor, who is also a Sedona resident, aspires to push the envelope with her art by approaching photography with the question, “What if …?”

“That playful question ‘What If …?’ is my constant companion,” Taylor says. “What if I took a very slow exposure and blurred a dancer’s spin? What if I switched from technicolor to soft black and white infrared? What if I submerged myself underwater and captured the fluid motions of a dancer as breath bubbles rise to the surface?”

Photographers Charles Ruscher and Ted Grussing will also be in attendance of Sedona PhotoFest as will Michael Seeley, who has photographed NASA and SpaceX launches.

“Sedona PhotoFest is about sharing not only the techniques but also the personal stories of photographers and how they got to where they are with their vision,” Klymenko says. “We want to show that there are creative people, not only in Sedona but also in the surrounding areas like Phoenix and Scottsdale. Whether it be nature photography, urban photography or something else, we want to share all of those stories and all of those visions that people have.”

On Sunday evening, the festivities will move to the Sedona Arts Center, where representatives from Lowell Observatory will be on hand with a pair of 12-inch telescopes and attachments that will allow guests to photograph the night sky’s celestial events—a fitting culmination for this year’s Sedona PhotoFest.

Klymenko believes that Sedona is the perfect place to hold the event, which will once again be an annual affair with plans for the 2020 and 2021 Sedona PhotoFests already percolating.

“Sedona is a beautiful place,” he says, noting that the area is a powerful source of inspiration for artists of all mediums. “People come to Sedona to paint, to draw and definitely to photograph the brilliant landscape that we have.”

Klymenko suggests aspiring photographers focus less on the technical settings of their cameras and more on light. He adds that although knowing how to use those settings is important, understanding the roles that light and composition play in photography is key to capturing that perfect shot.

“If you want to be a photographer, you have to understand light more than anything,” Klymenko explains. “All photographers are explorers of light. I suggest that people try to express themselves through their own eye. It is not all about editing. It is all about what you passionately feel. It is all about sharing what you see—your own personal vision.”

He hopes that the stories that will be shared by photographers like Romy Reiner, Bob Coates, Pam Taylor, Charles Ruscher, Ted Grussing and Michael Seeley during Sedona PhotoFest will galvanize people to explore the light that they see and share their own personal vision with the world, creating a community in which everyone is an artist.

Sedona PhotoFest

June 14–16 | Mary D. Fisher Theatre | 2030 W. AZ-89A, Sedona | Courtyard by Marriott Sedona

4105 W. AZ-89A, Sedona | Sedona Arts Center | 15 Art Barn Rd., Sedona | Free |

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