Randall Hodges has always loved hiking.
A Eugene native, many of his childhood memories involve fishing and walking the trails with his mom throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“The first time I hiked above treeline, man – I was totally addicted,” he said.
But what he loved equally as much was taking photos of the beautiful sights. After cresting a timberlined ridge or hiking to a lighthouse at sunrise, he would try to explain to people how much more beautiful these scenes were in person than the photos could show.
“Then I realized I needed to learn how to take a better photo that would explain itself,” Hodges said.
So what if, he thought, he could make his two favorite things his life’s work?
This leap of faith blossomed into a long career that has led Hodges to the North Coast. After decades of dreaming, earlier this month he finally realized one of his biggest career goals: to open his photo gallery, “Images of the West” in Cannon Beach.
It was a long and winding road to get here — quite literally. Since beginning his photography career, Hodges has hiked more than 27,000 miles all over the West Coast to get the dramatic nature shots that hang on his wall.
In many ways, hiking was a refuge. It’s where he found peace after quitting his band, which inspired his move to northwestern Washington more than 30 years ago. It’s where he went after he decided to quit his 12-year tenure as a high-end chef in Seattle, a career with which he was growing disillusioned.
He decided the way to get paid to hike was through his love of photography.
“I’ve always been known as a hiking photographer. So one really bad day at the restaurant, I locked myself in my office and I wrote a to-do list that said in one year I had to quit my job,” he said. “Then one year later, I did.”
To get established as a photographer, he traveled 26 times a year for 14 years to present his photography at every art show he could find in the Pacific Northwest.
But after a few too many days of blustering winds knocking over his exhibit booth tents, Hodges made it a goal to open his first brick-and-mortar gallery in Edmonds, Washington, four-and-a-half years ago. He then jumped on the chance to open another in Cannon Beach after seeing his dream property on Hemlock Street open up earlier this year.
“It encompasses everything I love about my business and photography. (Cannon Beach is a) great location to shoot pictures, and a fantastic town separate from anywhere else you go,” Hodges said.
What makes Hodges work stand apart from the others, he said, is that every image is produced in the camera — that means no Photoshop, no editing. Instead, he has honed old film techniques to create the images he wants. Sometimes it will take him years to get the perfect photo. Sometimes it takes visiting the same site 22 times if the lighting isn’t correct, he said.
His commitment to authenticity doesn’t go unnoticed, he said. He has made a whole business out of teaching people uninterested in learning post-production editing techniques his method in photography classes.
“In an age where you aren’t sure if you are looking at a real image anymore, people know they are seeing what I saw when I took that photo. They are standing right next to me on that beach and on that mountain, and they know it look liked that.”
For the next few years, Hodges will be managing the gallery remotely from Edmonds until his wife retires from her position. But once they make the move down, they are here to stay, he said.
“We hope to be in Cannon Beach for at least 15 years,” he said. “That’s the dream, and we just have to make it work.”