Chickasaw photographer explores beauty in nature and every day scenes
Kelly Langley's photos available for viewing and purchase at ArtesianArtsFestival.com
June 10, 2021
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. – More than 30 years ago, Chickasaw photographer Kelly Langley last tripped the shutter on her Nikon EM 35mm film camera with hopes of being a photojournalist.
It was the mid-1980s, and journalism jobs for women were few. So, graduate school beckoned. With funds a little skimpy, she needed to sell her film camera equipment to pay tuition, leading her to graduate from Oklahoma State University and embark upon a 30-year career developing programs for at-risk students in Oklahoma public school districts.
For her birthday five years ago, Langley received a digital camera, and the passion to produce artistic photography reignited in her soul after decades of dormancy. The retired educator now devotes her effort to capturing images that inspire a bygone era of memories in patrons who grew up and experienced small-town, rural life central to Langley's photographic eye.
For the virtual Artesian Arts Festival scheduled May 28 through Aug. 2, Langley has chosen images from her collection called "Nightscapes" to engage an audience. Patrons and art collectors will experience rural life and metropolitan imagery in the series. To view Langley's submissions, visit ArtesianArtsFestival.com or her website AroundTheBendStudio.com for a more comprehensive display of her work.
"So many of my images remind me of growing up near the Wichita Mountains," said Langley, who graduated from Elgin High School in 1982.
"Rural Oklahoma, for me, takes me back to a simpler era. A friend described growing up in the 1960s and '70s as a 'yes or no world.' Today, life is all multiple choice," Langley said laughing. "I take landscape photographs that remind me of that less complicated time."
Three generations of Langley's family grew up in and around Elgin and the Wichita Mountains.
"We always had a clear view of Mt. Scott and Saddle Mountain. To see them every day was comforting in a way," she said.
Her grandmother, Veta Abrams, was a noted local oil painter who would take her young granddaughter into the beautiful, craggy, wind-swept Wichita Mountains on painting excursions. At the time, Langley did not understand the crucial role her grandmother played in her development as a photographer.
"She would take me out to the wildlife refuge and tried to teach me how to paint. I tried and I tried, but I never had the natural talent she had," Langley said. "When I took up photography, I realized I could produce meaningful images even though I couldn't paint."
Langley credits her grandmother with teaching her how to recognize beauty in everyday scenes, the essentials of framing and emotions associated with color.
"She was simply amazing," Langley said. "She taught me about forms and light. From the back of her house, you could see the Wichita Mountains. We would sit on the back porch and watch storms go by. She would point out a cloud caught in the updraft of a storm or have me count the seconds between a lightning strike and the sound of thunder. That is one of my fondest memories – of being with her as she described what was happening in nature."
Her Chickasaw lineage is through her father, Donald Langley, who was a very talented artist but did not pursue it as a career. Her great-great-grandmother, Minnie Barker, registered with the Dawes Commission as an 18-year-old Chickasaw woman at the turn of the 20th century.
Sadly, her father succumbed to COVID-19 in January before vaccinations were readily available.
The COVID-19 pandemic – though abating – also crippled her participation in festivals and shows through 2020.
"I usually do about 15 festivals a year, and last year I only did two that were online," she observed. "I pretty much lost my income last year."
Her work has been displayed at the Chickasaw Nation Welcome Center in Davis, and she's sold several pieces through there.
Langley recently participated in and successfully sold artwork at Mayfest in downtown Tulsa and is scheduled to participate in numerous shows in the fall.
"I appreciate the Chickasaw Nation for being cautious with the Artesian Arts Festival," Langley said. "Festival organizers have gone to great lengths to keep us all safe while we engage in the reopening process."
A New Day
"It has been a journey," Langley said. "When I sold my film equipment to pay for school, I didn't pick up a camera for 30 years. I concentrated on my career in education. When I received the digital camera, I thought, 'OK, we'll give this another go,'" she said.
When Langley ended her photojournalism dream, photography was entirely film-based with long hours in a darkroom processing both film and prints in abrasive, smelly chemicals. Those days ended in the '90s when digital cameras became publicly available.
"The technology just exploded during that time. I have been using a Canon 50 mega-pixel, full-format camera the last couple of years, and I did not think anything could beat that. Then, mirrorless photography hit, and I avoided it for a while. But, oh, my gosh, it is great," she said.
"I find myself grabbing the mirrorless camera more often than not. It is so fast," Langley explained.
Its convenience has allowed her to work quickly.
"I have been out to Grand Lake shooting photos of eagles fishing. With the mirrorless, I can capture 20 or more good shots in seconds. The electronics in today's cameras are just amazing," she said.
Traditional darkrooms have gone the way of silent films. Langley can now process her images via a computer with multiple platforms for image editing.
"I am faithful to images I capture," Langley said. "I may enhance the colors or clarity of an image, but the basics of what the camera produces remain."
"Nightscapes" clearly show the impact quality gear and software can have on photos – while Langley stays true to her grandmother Veta's whisper to preserve nature's unblemished beauty.
Lightning strikes, ominous skies and seasonal rural Oklahoma scenes all may be enjoyed at the Artesian Online Art Market and on Langley's website.
About the Artesian Online Art Market
Open to the public for viewing and purchasing art, the Artesian Online Art Market (AOAM) will be available through Aug. 2 at ArtesianArtsFestival.com. The online market presents an opportunity for the public to enjoy original works of fine art created by talented First American artists.
This year's online market will be a first-class showcase for First American art, as well as a virtual destination for both art collectors and enjoyers.
Categories include drawing, graphic arts, mixed media, painting, photography, jewelry, sculpture, textiles, 3-D diverse, beadwork/quillwork, pottery, traditional dress & regalia, weaponry and cultural diverse.
Art lovers and buyers are able to maintain responsible distancing while browsing Chickasaw and other First American award winning artwork. Artists have the opportunity to display up to five pieces of art that are available for purchase. Artists and buyers connect directly to coordinate all transactions.
Last year's AOAM caught the attention of viewers and buyers from around the world, with nearly 7,000 viewers from 82 countries.