Thursday, September 29, 2022     Volume: 23, Issue: 31

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on September 21st, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 30 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 23, Issue 30

Two photographers capture the Oceano Dunes in series, with respective exhibits in SLO and Solvang


Photography-focused trips out to the Oceano Dunes can become an obsession: Chasing the perfection of repeated ridges, rain-spattered granules, optical illusions caused by layers of shadow and sand.

SLO-based photographer Bob Canepa’s Oceano Dunes photos are on display at the Wildling Musuem of Art and Nature through next March, including images from his “classic” series.

Visual artist Karl Kempton doesn’t know how many thousands of photographs he’s taken. But for the past five years, he’s visited the dunes for weekly walks with his digital camera.

“Some of the accidental illusions I captured wowed me ... so I just kept going back and back,” Kempton, who lives in Oceano, said. “Because it’s impossible, I think, to try to capture one photograph that captures the essence of the dunes.”

He looks for everything from the micro to the macro—small leaves that drifted off low-lying shrubs, wind-drag patterns etched across hundreds of feet, shapes, horizon lines, evening light, morning light. There’s so much, he said, and that’s only what he’s found in the small area of the dunes where he usually takes his walks. 

Seek serenity
Find your favorite photograph of the Oceano Dunes by visiting two separate exhibits. Karl Kempton’s images are on display at The Photo Shop in SLO, 1027 Marsh St., until Sept. 30. The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Bob Canepa’s Dunes: Vision of Sand, Light, and Shadow will be up at the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature through March 2023. The museum is at 1511-B Mission Drive in Solvang and is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“I don’t know that there could ever be one photograph that could say, this is the Oceano Dunes,” Kempton said. 

Which is why he works in series. Each collection of photographs focuses on one thing, such as what he calls “sandskrit.” Kempton, who describes his work as visual poetry, sees these images as reminiscent of written words etched into the hills and dales of the dunes, captured as if it was cursive. He’s published two books of his dunes images so far (Otoliths and Sandskrit of the Oceano Dunes), and is working on a third. 

A mix of these photos is on display at the PhotoShop in SLO through the end of September. He said he hopes that viewers see the “unexpected, outstanding beauty of the dunes” that they can experience simply by walking into the dunes.

Oceano artist Karl Kempton has been shooting photos of the dunes since 2018, and some of those shots are on display at the The Photo Shop in SLO through the end of September.

“The whole area from Arroyo Grande Creek down to Point Sal is an art gallery, the way that I look at it,” he said. “Another thing that people can do is just go in there and sit and just be with the dunes. They can shut out all of the noise of their lives and just quiet down.” 

Bob Canepa, a SLO-based photographer whose exhibit Dunes: Vision of Sand, Light, and Shadow is at the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature in Solvang through next March, said he would love it if viewers walk away from his images with a desire to play more.

He likened the feeling he gets in the dunes to that of childlike wonder and the desire to explore and create. If you watch a child playing alone, he said, it’s pretty special, but a lot of people lose contact with that inner spirit as they become adults. 

Bob Canepa’s “intimate” series of dunes photographs focus on the micro.

“You’re all alone there,” the retired middle school math teacher said. “It is totally up to you what you want to do. And if you have the gear and some experience, it just opens up a world where you feel so calm, so inspired.” 

But he wasn’t really able to see all the dunes had to offer through the lens until after a trip to San Francisco to photograph architecture. While the Central Coast doesn’t really have high rises that cast giant shadows or angled buildings for interesting contrast, the dunes have lines, forms, contrasts, and more. 

“I thought, could I make these dunes stand alone?” he said. “From that came three different series.” 

Karl Kempton hopes that people who look at his Oceano Dunes photos will see the unexpected beauty of the place.

Intimate, classic, and tranquility—all captured in black and white. Intimate is a micro series of shapes, such as what he described as miniature stalagmites that formed after a storm, while his classic series comprises what he would consider to be more typical images of the dunes, and tranquility highlights vast horizontal, panoramic views of the dunes. 

Dunes: Vision of Sand, Light, and Shadow at the Wildling is a collection of images from each of his series. 

“I want people to feel what I see, meaning I want someone to feel what I’m feeling when I take the image,” Canepa said. “Every time I go out there, I’m getting gift after gift after gift. 

“So when people leave the exhibit, I hope they have some emotional response to one or more of the images.”

Editor Camillia Lanham is aiming for tranquility. Send images to

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