When that "voice" within him says the relationship between all the elements he sees through his viewfinder are absolutely right, then, and only then, does Ken Schory... trip the shutter of his camera.
Of course, "the voice," as he calls it, isn't a literal one. It's that sense of knowing -- of feeling -- when subject matter, light, density and natural beauty are in complete harmony as well as focus. And sometimes it takes more than a half hour for that symbiotic relationship to occur.
Mostly self-taught, this artist-photographer composes and refines his images of the natural world by looking for what he calls their "souls."
"To me, it starts at a certain place and at a certain time that evokes a positive chord within me. I analyze that feeling and then, out of all the elements, including the visual, I see if I can translate it through the camera."
The nearly surreal beauty of the natural environment then comes alive through the finished product -- gallery-quality prints that almost have a voice of their own.
In addition to his full-time job as director of industrial design for AT&T Global Information Solutions [also known as NCR Corporation] in Dayton, Ohio, Schory spends at least 1,000 hours each year concentrating on his photographic artistry in the field.
He said he has been refining his technical knowledge of photographic equipment and methods with an artist's sensitivity for composition, texture and balance ever since his college days.
The young man from Park Ridge [Illinois] arrived at the U. of I.'s [University of Illinois'] downstate campus thinking he wanted to major in physics. That thought went out the window three semesters later. "I was miserable," he laughed. What he called his "designer genes" got the better of him when he followed in his dad's footsteps and switched to industrial design.
Schory remembers "a great creative environment on campus, there in the middle of the cornfields." But the real creativity for him began with an elective class he took from then-associate professor of art Art Sinsabaugh, who started the photography program at the School of Art and Design.
"He taught me that a camera was an artistic instrument," recalled Schory, reinforcing a much earlier interest in the craft honed by his father and his grandfather who were both amateur photographers. "My grandfather kept photo journals of his travels -- something he called 'pictures in words,'" Schory remembered.
It was later that Schory combined his love of the outdoors, camping, hiking, climbing and backpacking with an interest in nature photography. "They really happened together," he said, when he and his brother and a cousin took a trip out West one summer. "I took all kinds of equipment with me to try and capture the whole essence of that trip, and I remember trying to be artistic about it."
His love of the visual arts "had its roots in the fact that when my dad became blind from diabetic retinopathy at 36, I took on the challenge of interpreting the world around us to him during our travels together. In a way, I became his eyes, and in that way, he taught me to really see."
The combination of experiences evolved into his focus on the environment in today's world. Schory plans three major trips a year, each lasting a week to 10 days. When he returns home, he spends countless hours processing his images, cropping them on an enlarging easel, hand-spotting tiny imperfections with photographic dyes and numbering them.
He uses "the largest format I can carry (a 4X5 technical camera), medium-speed color film and 35 pounds of stuff, including food and medical supplies, in a specialized backpack." He plans his trips very carefully -- "I want to be in a specific area at a specific time" in order to try and capture the real essence of the subject matter. He uses no filters or special techniques to modify nature's real effects and always listens to that voice inside him before the moment of truth arrives.
What advice does Schory have for the average camera buff? "Master the basics to a point where technology is not an obstacle between you the artist and you the photographer. Find your own voice, what it is you want to express through photography." As for the type of equipment one might invest in, "That will come after you find your 'voice,'" he assures.
In May, Schory and his wife, Joyce, whom he said has taken to these adventures "like a duck to water," will backpack out of the country for the first time on a looked-forward-to excursion to the Scottish Highlands.
His love of the natural environment is the reason he takes his camera into the areas he photographs. And he wants to keep the environment that way -- natural. To that end, Schory contributes a large portion of the proceeds from the sale of his prints to help protect those very places "before they disappear."
Though he has shown his work at shows mainly in Ohio, Schory said the U. of I.'s Krannert Art Museum in Champaign has expressed an interest in an exhibition of his photography. Which goes to show, true voices do carry.