(Typed from the article as it appeared in the paper. See below for that image).
Photographer listens for “music” before snapping away
by Gay Griesbach, for the (West Bend) Daily News,
Exploring the Arts (16 page insert), Daily News & News Graphic, April 2018
“Viewing a Drake Fleege photograph is like stepping into nature - seeing the play of light on landscape, hearing rushing water or leaves rustling in the wind.
It’s not just chance that makes his fine art landscape photographs singular; rather a keen eye for detail and deep appreciation for the natural world.
Recognized at area art fairs because he’s wearing one of his eight trademark cowboy hats, Fleege, who owns Powder Hill Photography, will often hear visitors say, “You capture that we walk by and don’t see”.
“That’s my goal; to make it feel like you are there,” Fleege said.
Among Fleege’s photos owned by Judy and Dave Scharfenberger is one titled “Autumn Gold Tamaracks’".
“Our family camped in the Vilas County area for over 30 years and it reminded me of similar scenes up there. Every time I look at it, it makes me think of Up North - you can almost hear the quiet,” Judy Scharfenberger said.
Nature lovers Sue and Dave Schultz own several of Fleege’s photos.
“Drake has a special gift for catching beautiful scenes,” Sue Schultz said.
Before leaving for a stint in the Navy, Drake’s father gave him an old Argus camera and a two-minute lesson on its operation. Fleege hiked, camped and snowshoed in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Sequoia National Park, snapping away.
When digital cameras came on the market, he bought a Canon Rebel.
In 2005 Fleege and his wife, Kathy, took a month off for the ultimate road trip - driving to Alaska on the ALCan Highway.
After Kathy flew home, Drake spent a few weeks exploring the 49th state and Denali became his first muse.
The highest peak in North America, Denali is large enough to create its own weather system and is often shrouded in clouds but the mountain revealed itself daily to Fleege as he traveled to the historic village of Talkeetna, considered the gateway to Denali.
One sensation that still remains with Fleege comes from his airplane tour over glaciers and mountains.
”It was magnificent. I was shooting pictures left and right and it felt like we were floating. It was a thrilling experience,” he said.
Back on solid ground, he bicycled near the Talkeetna River, where he stopped to rest near a rocky shoreline where he could see Denali in the distance.
“It was a beautiful blue-sky day and I was listening to the water drift through the rocks and feeling this power,” Fleege said.
The next morning he drove to Fairbanks. Accompanied by another clear view of Denali, he listened to his musical muse, John Denver.
What may be at play is an ancient philosophical concept - the Harmony of the Spheres, which incorporates mathematical relationships to express qualities or “tones” of energy connected by proportion and pattern.
Back at home, Fleege looked through his photos of Denali and the mountain’s message became clear.
“I sold all of my old equipment, bought professional gear and started researching everything about photography I could find,” Fleege said.
He was working in sales for Motorola when, in 2006, the company underwent yet another restructuring and Fleege found himself out of a job.
That day he committed himself to photography and ongoing research about his craft.
While researching names for his newly minted endeavor, Kathy suggested the name Powder Hill - the road that bisects the nearby Pike Lake Unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest.
His library includes everything from "Galen Rowell’s “Inner Game of Outdoor Photography” and John Shaw’s “Focus on Nature” to works of master photographers like Ansel Adams. All carry notes and critiques Fleege added using his own talented take on the art.
His singular approach could be described with the words, “different drummer.”
“I don’t believe in absolutes and I will not allow people to tell me how it’s done,” Fleege said.
He retains total artistic control over his work, personally signing and printing images on 100 percent cotton rag, acid-free paper.
His workroom is papered in rejected prints that almost made the grade.
“There are times that I’ll print something and if I don’t like it, I’ll rip it up and start over again,” Fleege said.
His landscapes range from panoramic triptychs to extreme close up or macro photography.
Needless to say, his vacations do not include visiting cities.
Photographic forays with his 1Ds Mark III Canon include travel to the Gulf Shores in Alabama and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. He also treks around Wisconsin and close to home, but that doesn’t mean his SD card comes back full.
“I may drive to Door County and never take my camera out of the bag if I don’t see or don’t feel it. When I don’t hear the music, the pictures don’t turn out.” Fleege said.
One special spot is just a short hike from home.
“I call it Pike Lake Church. It’s in a kettle and up above, in the trees, birds sing - that’s the choir loft. The blue skies are stained glass windows and the plants and animals are giving us their sermon. I just have to listen to it,” he said.
For 2018, his planned schedule for art fairs includes the Holy Hill Art Farm Fair on June 2-3 in Hubertus, Sept. 15-16 and Oct 14-15, the Lake Country Art Festival on July 14 in Delafield; the Kohler Museum Mid-Summer Art Festival on July 21-22 in Sheboygan; Art in the Park on Aug. 11-12 in Lake Geneva; and the Oconomowoc Festival of the Arts on Aug.18-19.
For more information on Fleege and Powder Hill Photography on line, visit www.powderhillphotography.com.”
West Bend News Interview, April 16, 2018