Red Chair Gallery Presents Mike Putnam ~ Landscape Photographer

((L) Columbia River Gorge, (R) Hedgehog Cactus | Photography by Mike Putnam)

For landscape photographer Mike Putnam, timing is the key to success. Many of his stunning shots show brilliant arrays of mountain wildflowers or blazing autumn foliage, with the Cascade Mountains as a backdrop. They are the result of his painstaking effort to be there on the day when the display is at its most magnificent. Putnam is a showcase artist at Red Chair Gallery in August.

During the spring, summer and fall, Putnam spends about five days a week scouting his photo shoots before he even sets up his equipment. “It’s a lot of hiking and searching and waiting for the conditions to be right and then coming back at the peak time,” he says. He has become an expert on identification of mountain and desert area plants so that he knows what most wildflowers look like before they bloom. He backpacks or hikes into an area to locate the flowers and then calculates when to come back to get the best photos.

To catch the gorgeous pink blooms of the hedgehog cactus shown here, he first consulted numerous online trip reports from hikers in the Spring Basin Wilderness near John Day. The reports indicated that the cactus usually blooms there in late April so that was when he made the first 14-mile round trip trek to find them. He was too early so he returned the following week and found them in glorious bloom. It was worth all the study and exertion, he says. “They’re really quite adorable for something so spiny.”

Putnam fell in love with Central Oregon’s landscape after moving here from Kentucky in 1999. He grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, famed for its Thoroughbred racing horses, attended Kenyon College and then veterinary school at Auburn University. He returned to Lexington and worked as a vet for the area’s horse farms. With an average horse farm client needing constant care for 150-200 horses, the work was grueling and soon made Putnam reconsider his career. After falling in love with Oregon on a visit here, he and his wife decided to move and he quickly found a position at Tumalo Veterinary Hospital, where he worked for 15 years.

Putnam had always been an amateur photographer and outdoorsman. Hiking and backpacking in Oregon with his camera became a great joy. About ten years ago, he left veterinary medicine to devote himself full time to photography. He uses an old-fashioned large format 4×5 film camera to create fine art prints with exceptional detail. He often builds his own frames for traditional prints but more recently has begun making large metal prints without frames. The aluminum-based prints provide more “pop” for the vibrant colors of his landscapes, he says.

Besides wildflowers, his portfolio includes many stunning scenes of waterfalls, rivers, lakes and the desert. His landscapes adorn the walls of St. Charles Medical Center and many area medical and corporate offices, and he often stages shows at places like the Commons Café and Patagonia in downtown Bend. In September, he will have a show at the Deschutes Brewery restaurant on Bond Street.

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