Monday, October 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 33

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on October 31st, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 35 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 35

Bill Dewey's aerial photography gives a stunning glimpse of the Central Coast


The first time Bill Dewey flew with his father, he was a young boy. His memory now clings to images of puffy white clouds whipping through the sky around him.

“It was a bright spring day,” he recalled. “The feeling was absolutely intense and surreal. It never left me even as I grew older.”

Aerial photographer Bill Dewey, featured in a new exhibit at the Wildling Museum, began taking photos when he was a young child, eventually studying the craft at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara.

Today, the seasoned photographer and pilot relives that moment of his life weekly, soaring high above the Central Coast landscape to capture stunning images of life from high in the air. A new show featuring Dewey’s photography at the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature in Solvang includes more than 20 prints of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties taken from the air. According to a press release from the museum, many are recent works that have never been exhibited before.

For Dewey, before airplanes and flying, photography came first. When he was a child his family had a Kodak Brownie camera, which shot black and white film. For the budding artist, the camera was a source of mesmerizing inspiration.

“I was interested in photography from very early on,” he said. “I remember taking pictures and the anticipation of waiting for the images to come back from the drugstore.”

Both of Dewey’s grandfathers were seasoned amateur photographers; his maternal grandfather even built a darkroom in his house to develop his own work. A young Dewey was fascinated.

“His house was fairly close to where I was,” he said. “I remember all the smells, the orange safelight.That was the genesis of my interests.”

Bill Dewey, an experienced aerial photographer featured in an exhibit at the Wildling Museum, said he feels fortunate to be in an area with such diverse landscape. “It’s really inspiring and transcendent to have this kind of array available,” he said.

But it was when he was in college at the UC Davis that he had a truly life-altering experience. Dewey had visions of studying art and becoming a painter, but when he walked into his family home on a summer break and found his brother working in a makeshift darkroom in a bathroom, Dewey had an epiphany.

“I was just blown away by how he could be doing that in an environment as simple as a bathroom,” he said. “To watch that image develop, it was magical. I’ve never looked back.”

Dewey enrolled in the the Brooks Institute and studied photography; by the 1980s he had his own studio business. But flying didn’t enter picture until years later.

Dewey has no useful vision in one eye and believed for years he wouldn’t be able to get a private pilot’s license until a friend told him differently. After that he set out to get his license, and the aerial photography business was born.

“Flying, of course, is magical,” Dewey said. “To fly and take photos is extra special. There will be times when I will just get up and go. We live in a place with such an amazing array of landscapes within such a reachable distance by air. In an hours’ time I can go cover all those places and be back in my studio by 9 a.m. I always say I’m fortunate to have ended up in the Santa Barbara region.”

From the landscapes of the Santa Ynez Valley, to the agricultural land patterns of Santa Maria, to the dunes of Guadalupe, Dewey said there are so many diverse views he can catch in a quick morning of flying before heading into his studio.

“The number of images that present themselves are infinite,” he said. “It’s really inspiring and transcendent to have this kind of array available. I feel very lucky.”

High above

Overview: Aerial Photography of Bill Dewey runs through March 12, 2018, at the Wildling Museum’s Valley Oak Gallery. The museum is located at 1511 Mission Drive, Solvang. More info: 688-1082.

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is deathly afraid of flying. Contact her at 


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