It's awards and festival season, so a time for red carpets and the furious flashes of countless photographers. But not all cameras are aimed at Hollywood hotshots -- some are pointed at grapes and other stars of the wine industry. And in Southern California, one of the most acclaimed wine photographers is Bob Dickey: his photos appear in countless publications and on winery web sites; his work often the official visuals for the Santa Barbara Vintners Association.
So did Dickey slave for years as a photographer and suddenly find his vinous calling one day? Not exactly. "I have an MBA from Berkeley and was a bank consultant for thirty-five years on strategy and organizational structure," he explains. "I was creative, not graphic -- what I did was different than what others were doing. I would say, 'This is a different company with a different style, why should you do things the way others do?'"
That sense of iconoclasm slowly led him to his current calling, via work with other arts like sculpting and pottery, but he admits, "I had taken photos, but wasn't that interested, frankly." That all changed with the advent of digital. "The immediacy struck me," he says, "and you can take so many and disregard so many. Usually I keep about 25% of what I shoot at an event, and then narrow that down to 10%." He adds, "And it's not uncommon for me to take 125-150 photos an hour when in a resource-rich environment like Vintners' Festivals."
Dickey immersed himself in resource-rich environments, willing to do a bit of everything and anything in the industry, from leading tours to wine writing to co-hosting a wine-focused radio show to pouring at events. "I remember being in the back of the tractor at harvest with Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead, and she'd show me two different looking clusters of sauvignon blanc and she'd tell me what each did to the wine." Most of all he cherishes his times in the vineyards themselves, "especially early morning or late afternoon when the sun is close to the horizon and it illuminates the grapes like they're lit from inside."
And while he admits that for effect he does play with Photoshop, "I do it to the point that you'd never confuse it with an unaltered photo." It becomes more painting with photos and computers at that point. "I get a little disgusted when I go to a tasting room and see a photo of a vineyard, and I know that vineyard and I know the light never looks like that."
Overall, though, Dickey has nothing but praise for "the really nice community, the wine industry." He's a central part of that community, now. "Palmina once invited me to a dinner and Chrystal [Clifton, co-owner] told me to leave my camera at home, we want you to enjoy this. But while I don't take photos of beautiful sunsets anymore, if I was at a really great wine photo opp without my camera, I'd really miss it. Not taking photos is too hard."