Graham Lewis – Keeping Ashland in Focus

Photo By John Darling

Chances are that if you haven’t met Graham Lewis, you have probably seen him at one of Ashland’s festivities or celebrations. Graham can be spotted everywhere around town. Originally having grown up in rural Mississippi, participation in the community events was never a decision Graham had to make. Everyone participated. From his dad as the communities’ Methodist minister, his mother a teacher to all of Graham’s aunts, uncles, and cousins who found ways to be involved with the friends and neighbors. Community participation has always been a way of life.

Growing up in the rural south in the heat of the 1960’s was not all flowers and roses. He knew that he did not fit the politics of his native state.  After 5 years in the Air Force he chose to stay in LA for graduate school (USC) in Counseling Psychology.  After 22 years in LA, he and his wife Bunny Lewis moved to Ashland, Oregon in 1991. They found the ideal town for raising kids, skiing and theatre.

Together Bunny and Graham ran a successful bed and breakfast hosting visitors from all around the world who had come to enjoy this beautiful town. When they received an offer that was too good to pass up they sold the business and changed careers. Once again they focused on serving people, Bunny opened Lasting Wellness, a local women’s health clinic, while Graham worked with Southern Oregon Drug Awareness and First United Methodist Church of Ashland.

Graham always knew that he loved being behind the camera and when Bunny gave him a digital camera for Christmas 2000, his passion was fueled even further.  Today, Graham can be spotted all around town documenting life in Ashland. As an active charter member of theRotary Club of Ashland — Lithia Springs and the Staff Photographer of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, Graham welcomes new visitors to our town every day.  With a friendly smile and outgoing passion for life, it is easy to see why this Graham loves what he does.

I knew it was time to do an interview.

Graham, thanks for speaking with me today, I take it you’re a pretty popular guy around town?

A positive attitude, a smile, while speaking to people helps. I don’t think of myself as “popular” but as a person who enjoys being out and about. Carrying my camera, dressing with comfort also helps folks feel comfortable talking with me.

Growing up in rural communities has qualities that simply aren’t available in larger communities. What qualities do you see threads of today in Ashland? 

The largest town I lived in growing up was around 700 people.  Ashland is a big place in comparison but is still a town where lots of people know each other.  The volunteer spirit of Ashland is what helps us keep our small town culture.  Involved citizens strengthen community.

At the age of 8 you received your first camera. How it did that magic moment change your life?

I’ve been taking pictures ever since.  I learned to see life as if through a view finder.  I dream looking though the camera.

The Magic of Photography – A camera captures reflected light.  A picture is reflected light recorded on film or digital card.

My excitement about photography is the magic of it, capturing in fractions of a second events that can never happen again.  Look at the new awning at Paddington Jewel Box. I spent the morning up early taking pictures of the installation.  I hope 50, 100 years from now someone looks at them saying, “WOW!  That’s Ashland in 2012.”

I wish 50 years ago someone had told me I could make a living as a photographer.  That would have been the life changing moment.  I guess the more recent life changing moment was Christmas 2000 when Bunny gave me a digital point and shoot.  I’ve seldom been without a camera since.

Playing an active role in community was never a decision for you to have had to make. 

Role modeling of family, my dad was always in Rotary or other service clubs, all my uncles, aunts, cousins worked hard in community activities – it’s what our family does.  It’s what successful people do.  My undergrad alma mater, Millsaps College, was recently named in the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.  That said, there’s no pure altruism.  I do things that feel good, setting up tables at Rotary, serving on various city and school district committees, volunteering at OSF, helping Ashland visitors find their way around.  Want to feel better?  Volunteer, get involved.

Graham, can you share a little bit more about your own understanding and philosophy of community building?

Community building is folks helping each other.  The ‘barn raising,’ everyone gathered to help a neighbor build a new barn.  The Chamber of Commerce sponsors the July 4th parade and other events.  Over 100 people work together to make that day happen.  It’s part of the spirit and culture of Ashland.  Civic prides swells.  By working together we get to know each other, we care about our town but even more we care about our neighbors.  Lots of people say they are “giving back to the community.”  I say, “We are building community and that’s good for us personally.”

The more we are involved in building community rather than looking at what’s wrong the sooner we find common ground.  Let’s talk about what we can do, what we can build.  Be more solution oriented.  Of course, we have many opinions as to what is the best solution.  Pick a problem, ask twenty folks on the Plaza to offer solution you’ll get at least 15 different ideas.  Finding the common thread in the ideas is part of working together in community, the responsibility of our civic leaders to build consensus.

How do you utilize these skills in being a photographer?

 I enjoyed a career as a Marriage, Family Counselor, one the first licensed in California; Counseling is about building relationships, healing relationships, and growth.  Helping people risk talking about painful things is the job of the counselor. 

Building a relationship is my first job when I am photographing people, asking them to start talking about why this picture, what are you going to do with this picture. From the time I answer the phone it is all about building the relationship.  The camera is threatening too many people.  I help them enjoy the experience. My goal is for the camera to be almost invisible, not easy when using flash.

I love to do shoot in a home and at events, family reunions, office celebrations. People relax. I get people to talk about something joyous in their lives, show me family mementoes. I ask people in the work place about their jobs.

Aside from being an active member of the Ashland Chamber you are also a Charter member of the Rotary Club of Ashland – Lithia Springs.  Tell us a more about some of the friendships you have formed over the years?

Rotary motto is “Service Above Self.”  Rotary is an international service organization, 30,000 clubs worldwide.  Our club has between 40 and 50 members.  We work together, have and resolve conflicts, and raise money for local youth programs and Rotary International projects around the world.  Our annual CrabFest nets lots of money, all of which is dedicated to scholarships and other programs that help local kids.  Our weekly meetings bring community leaders to present programs that help us know deficiencies and possible solutions, not just giving dollars, but ways to be involved as volunteers.  Service clubs are a prime example of how community building strengthens community

What was one of the best pieces of advice every given to you?

Forgive as you expect to be forgiven.  Accept what you cannot change/change what you can, know the difference.  You cannot change another person.  Don’t argue with a crazy person.  Plus advice I give to myself and others, Sh*t happens; it’s how we clean it up that counts.

 I love to see your passion for photography. Tell us a little bit about your work and inspirations?

 I like to look at nouns, objects that reflect light, to present them in ways that are different from how they are usually seen.  In the work place, close ups of hands making things.  At events, catching emotion in faces.  Though the person may say “that’s a horrible picture of me.”  Their loved ones say, “That’s YOU!  We’ve seen that look many times.”  Pictures that tell stories are always interesting, what happens from the process of installing an awning to the love between people at a family reunion.

What are your favorite environments to work in with your clients?

I like to shoot where people are most comfortable.  I don’t have a studio, I work outside, in a factory or office, at a party . . . depends on what/where my client wants . . . I can shoot there.

One of your favorite sayings is that just because you have an iPhone it doesn’t make you a photographer. With a great selection of local photographers here in Ashland what do you specialize in?

My specialty is shooting photos that tell a story; draw the viewer who was not there into the image.  A picture of the assembly line at Brammo shows everyone what it’s like to be in the plant, show those who have not been on the roof of the Lithia Springs what the view is from there (cover photo of Chamber In & About 2012), and show people 100 years from now what our Plaza was like in 2012.

Yes, Ashland has many photographers.  Look at what we do, hire the one who you think can best tell YOUR story.  You can take snap shots.  We take photographs.

Not only are you a freelance photographer but you also work part time with Ashland’s Chamber of Commerce, can you tell us about what you do there and what you enjoy?

I am Staff Photographer, Volunteer Coordinator, and Other Duties as Assigned for the Chamber.  The photo job is to shoot Chamber events, Ribbon Cuttings, Greeters, workshops, Annual Dinner, parades, and visiting dignitaries.  I am also responsible for the Member Pages on the Chamber web site.

As Volunteer Coordinator I make sure we have volunteers trained and committed to work the front desk in the Chamber office 5 days a week year round plus the Information Booth on the Plaza from Memorial Day Weekend until OSF closes.  We have over 100 dedicated people who help visitors find what they are looking for in Ashland. The receptions desks of the Chamber and the Booth are the front door of Ashland.  We meet people from all around the world.  Anyone looking for a place to volunteer, please call me.

Graham how can our readers see more of your work and then go about hiring you to photograph for them?

I have many images posted on and on Facebook.  One of my favorite projects is “Where in Ashland? On FB.  Check it out to see if you know where I was when I took the shoot.  Call me, 541-292-0776, to talk about what you want.  I promise that if I think another photographer can do the job better, I’ll refer.  However, I believe that I’m the best for most projects.

Conclusion:  Graham “Keeps Ashland in Focus” by having his camera with him all the time, except when he’s seeing a play.  He wants to work with businesses to show their strengths, with families to save their memories, and with our environment to help sustain her beauty.

Graham Lewis Fine Photography
Phone:  541-292-0776

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Shields Bialasik

Hi, I am Shields. I am the creator or LocalsGuide. The mission or my company is to provide a positive media platform for my community which in turn makes it stronger and more resilient. I hope you will enjoy and feel inspired to start your own LocalsGuide in your town or community.

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