THE VIEW FROM HERE
The Loss of a Dear Friend
My good friend and mentor Ralph Putzker passed away last week. Ralph was 85, lived a long, strong, creative and energetic life. As those of us who loved him mourn his passing, we can take solace in the fact that he lived life with inspirational vigor.
I first met Ralph and his co-instructor Al Weber in about 1975, on a Lee Vining Canyon/Mono Lake workshop run through the University of California Santa Cruz Extension. They were radically different teachers, both communicating a level of dedication and craft that I truly found inspiring. They both became life-long friends of mine. I discovered Mono Lake that long weekend, and started a permanent love affair with the high desert.
I also witnessed a kind of enthusiasm for art I had never seen before. Ralph was an energy well, that he freely shared and grew stronger when his audience felt it. He made teaching and sharing as high a craft as his artwork, and imbued both with delight and wonder in the world.
When I met him, Ralph was also chairman of the Art Dept. at San Francisco State University where I was about to transfer. He made that move almost effortless and made me feel personally welcome in a daunting new environment.
We spent some good time together over the years. I assisted him on workshops in Mendocino, Canada and Yosemite. He was often a regular at the Ansel Adams Yosemite workshops. Ralph wrote countless letters on my behalf, for scholarships, credentials, grants and anything else we dreamed up.
Under the GI Bill he studied Art and Anthropology at the University of California Berkeley earning his BA and later an MA in Art and Art History. He went back to school for his doctorate in 1968 and made good use of the PhD for credibility when needed on paper, but wouldn't be caught dead calling himself Dr. Ralph. The doctoral program led to a thesis on the creative process. For Ralph, it was another adventure, and took him to Central America and Guatemala many times, influencing not only his thinking, but his painting as well. He came to speak Spanish fluently, and later a little Navajo.
At his "Grass Roots Ranch" south of Half Moon Bay, Ralph grew Christmas trees, which made him a farmer I suppose. He loved the idea of working the earth, but even more so, witnessing its splendor. He served as a cartographer in WWII with many flights over Japan, and later became a pilot enraptured by the view. He even built a plane in his garage in Half Moon Bay and co-piloted a trip across Alaska with his good friend Jordon Coonrad.
Ralph was an accomplished painter, photographer and filmmaker. As a young painter in 1936, he worked on the murals at Golden Gate Park's Beach Chalet. He painted all through his adult life.
Some of his work has survived and is currently in storage. Some is scattered among his many admirers. A permanent home and exhibitions will be sought.
Although I thanked him many times for all that he gave to me, this column is yet another. Thank you Ralph, for all that you gave, and for all that you helped us dream.
The New Book, For Your Consideration
We'd like you to consider buying our new book. We think it is something special, reflective of Steve's teaching and his passion. It has the reach of a book on the state of the art of photography today, not just tech talk, not just history, not just photographs. It is designed to be an overall look at where we are, from the perspective of someone who has helped get us there. We think it is honest, telling and hopefully inspirational.