Tom White, the winner of our 2015 Fall photo contest, spent his working life in the music business, but he had another motivation besides paying the bills. “I enjoyed sharing music with others; it wasn’t just about dollars. It’s the same with my photography,” he says. He stresses that he’s an amateur when it comes to making money with his work, but his friends will tell you his skills approach those of any pro. He’s been sharing his work on the Rio Nuevo Facebook page, among others, for more than a year, and entered several photos in the contest.
White’s winning image, of Lockett Meadows near Flagstaff, is special to him because a neighbor who later died was with him the day he took it. It was a perfect fall day, and the photo captures the deep indigo sky, along with the green and gold trees reflecting in the mirror-like pond. The judges especially liked the way the sky’s negative space traced the outline of the mountains in the pond.
Born in Colorado, White spent his early years in Estes Park, then moved with his family to Dallas; then to Fullerton, California; then to Lafayette, Louisiana, where he lived from sixth grade until college. His father was a chemistry professor at the University of Colorado, but then took a job with Mobil Oil. Through all of the moving around, his father taught him about nature, and it’s a passion that White nurtures to this day.
One of his other great loves is music, and after starting out as a clerk in a record store, he eventually went to work for RCA as a sales rep. “I went into the music business because I didn’t want to grow up,” he laughs. His odyssey continued with stops in Houston, Minneapolis, and Nashville, where he was the vice-president of sales for RCA Country. He finished his music career at Windham Hill. White enjoyed moving around. “I’ve learned something new from every place I’ve lived,” he says.
He especially appreciated spending time with the artists, many of whom were humble and down-to-earth. One he mentions is Yanni, who was willing to go bowling with the wives of Kmart buyers who were in Detroit for a meeting. White also talks about getting to know Martina McBride before she hit it big. “Her husband did sound for Garth Brooks, and she sold t-shirts at his shows,” he says. “Her make-up case was an old Barbie case.” White credits her strong will to make it in the business as one of the reasons she found success as a country music star.
Back surgery ended White’s thirty-year career in the music business in 2000. “I lost fifteen years to a bad back and had to retire at fifty,” he says. He bought a home on a lake in Wisconsin, but quickly tired of the snow and cold. He says he pondered moving to either Colorado or Northern Arizona, but “I didn’t want winter any more, so Colorado didn’t win.” He now makes his home in Cornville, near Sedona in the Verde Valley.
It wasn’t until he moved to Arizona that he took up photography as a hobby. “I went from going 24-7 to sitting in Sedona, which took an adjustment,” he says. He sold his watch and cell phone when he moved and was plenty happy to be without them, although he did finally break down and buy a cell phone this past year. “I would have every gadget in the world if I was still working,” he says.
In a place with such overwhelming natural beauty, it seemed like an easy jump to photography. “Rollie’s Camera [in Sedona] has been such a help to me as an amateur,” White says. He’s also learned by following some of the bigger names in photography, and Tom Kelly at Rollie’s is his mentor. He uses a Nikon 3300 body with three lenses: a Nikon 10-24mm, a Nikon 18-200, and a Tamron 150-600 for shooting wildlife.
His passions for nature and photography not only fill his days but offer health benefits, too. He’s lost fifty pounds in the past fourteen months by eliminating sugar from his diet and walking three to five miles a day — sometimes as many as ten miles when he’s on a shoot.
He offers a tip he learned from a mentor for those who want to improve their photography. “Turn around. It’s not a technical phrase, but you miss fifty percent of what you might see if you get so focused on where you’re going. It’s made all the difference in my photography.”
In addition to shooting local events for the Red Rock News and sharing photos on Facebook, White is considering setting up a page to sell his work on Arts of America. But that’s down the road. For now, we hope he’ll continue delighting our readers with his chronicles of the natural beauty he sees every day.