Keep on Walking
Local photographer and poet sees life through a new lens
By LeAne Rutherford
After 43 successful years in the intense, contentious world of law, Richard Turner abruptly pivoted into a soul-soothing sphere of artful photography, global travel and poetry.
Following graduation from Stanford, he became a young deputy attorney general in the California Department of Justice, serving as Gov. Ronald Reagan’s personal lawyer. His duties ranged from keeping his boss abreast of current matters to addressing government legalities, and even to quelling riots.
Later when Turner announced his decision to move on to private practice, the governor offered him a judgeship in hopes of keeping him. “I declined. I felt I was too young,” Turner says. Everyone predicted his starvation.
But Turner, who lives in the Pocket with his wife Prem Hunji, did not starve in private practice. His firm eventually burgeoned to 15 lawyers and 40 employees. As a lawyer and problem-solver, he often took the other side on government issues. He worked on high-profile cases, medical disputes and “the most fun client—the garbage industry.”
Raising five children and lawyering left little time for anything else. Then one day at 60, he heard a voice: “A lot is happening in the world, and you are missing it.” That was a clarion call to action.
“I’ll be gone for a month,” Turner told his wife. He loaded a sleeping bag and a few clothes into the trunk of his Jeep Cherokee. With no destination in mind, he left on his “walkabout” to find what he was missing.
He drove north, then east through Idaho and into Montana where he found a cattle ranch. The ranch owner gave him room and board in exchange for manual labor, which included bucking hay—lifting rectangular 50- to 150-pound bales of hay—and teaching the owner’s son how to fly fish.
One early morning in Idaho as Turner slept outside, he sensed a presence near his head. Peeking out from his sleeping bag, he saw an enormous bull moose with massive antlers checking him out. “Sorry,” he whispered and held his breath until the moose amiably ambled over to a lily pond and resumed eating.
Turner grabbed his camera, took a picture of the moose and sent it to his friend, Ted Sirland, a well-known Sacramento portrait photographer. Sirland told him it was a terrible picture. The moose did not “fill the frame,” so it looked like a small moose in a big pond. That observation challenged him to learn more about photography and composition.
Sitting on the bank of the west fork of the Bitterroot River in Montana some 20 years ago, he realized that the natural world and photography were awaiting him. He returned home and quit law. Shortly afterward, his wife, an architect and attorney, also began a new life. For both, retirement was really commencement.
Turner acknowledges his many mentors: George Lepp, field editor of “Outdoor Photography” magazine; John Shaw, nature photographer extraordinaire; fellow photographers in the North American Nature Photography Association; and others.
Turner himself is providing shoulders for others to stand on—sharing his work and philosophy with talks, writing, open studios and exhibits. In his early 80s, he is truly a modern elder, turning the page but not closing the book.
Having tasted all continents save Antarctica, he believes we live on “an amazing planet,” and we need “a greater appreciation of our natural world. We are all connected. It is vital that we save species.”
His first book, “I Can’t Always See My Path…but I Keep on Walking,” is soon to be followed by his memoir and “Sweet Crazy—Walking on the Edge.” Both books, and the 55,000 Gorgeous Greetings cards he has created, demonstrate his intense connection with the natural world of flowers, birds, trees, sky and animals.
As he notes in the preamble to “I Can’t Always See My Path,” “Nature started tapping into deep spiritual feelings I had been suppressing for years.”
For more information, visit rturnerphotography.com.
LeAne Rutherford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.