I first met Richard E. Loftis shortly after I opened the Baker Gallery in my home in 1981. This wasn’t long after Eddie and I had moved to Kansas City and given birth to our daughter, Abbie. The first exhibition I installed in the living and dining rooms of our home was a collection of Edward Weston prints that I managed to borrow from a guy in Colorado. The second show was an impressive selection of Ansel Adams photographs (“Moonrise Over Hernandez” included) that I consigned from the Tom Halsted Gallery in Detroit.
One of the first people to come see these shows was a guy named Richard - a tall, gangly 40 something man with a goofy laugh, a head over heels passion for photography and a portfolio of prints tucked under his arm. He knew more about Weston and Adams than I could ever hope to know. He spoke the zone system like it was his first language. Richard traveled to many of the same spots where those F64 guys photographed, and he would set up his 8” x 10” view camera to try his hand at capturing some of the same Western scenes.
Richard was one of the friendliest people who came through the doors of my newly open photo galley, the first of its kind in Kansas City. He’d been waiting for a place like this for a long time. Here he could hang out with other photographers, who slowly but surely began to learn of the existence of the Baker Gallery. He could look through the flat files and see the work of photographers he admired. He showed up at every Sunday afternoon opening reception, and sometimes during the week by appointment (well, it was supposed to be by appointment, but he just kind of showed up knocking at the door). His excitement was contagious. His laugh bellowed, and his tall frame and white hair commanded a second look. It wasn’t long before he was a fixture at the place.
Richard talked about technique, gear, papers, chemicals, light meters, lenses, films, tripods and enlargers to just about anyone who’d listen. He was an engineer and knew how to build things, how things worked and how to fix just about anything that broke. He could spend the afternoon discussing the properties of infrared film, the pros and cons of selenium toning or the benefits of shooting in the sharp, contrasty bright sunlight. He loved sharing his thoughts, ideas and advice with all my clients. Richard would frequently hop in his van and travel to Bryce Canyon, Taos or the Garden of the Gods to lose himself in photo heaven. Then he’d come back to my gallery with a box full of pristine, perfectly printed, mounted and spotted gelatin silver prints matted in pure white rag boards. He was a master darkroom printer. (There was always a pair of white cotton gloves in the box, mind you.)
Photographing in Death Valley
I took him on as part of the stable of the Baker Gallery. I promoted and showed his work; soon there were collectors of Richard’s work in and around Kansas City. This fed his desire to make more work, to push himself harder and further. He told me I had lit a fire. He read everything he could get his hands on. He was self-taught, after all, and there was always so much more to learn. He had received his first camera for Christmas when he was eleven years old and had to pretty much figure out on his own how the thing worked.
Richard did well. He established quite a name for himself and had some shows outside of Kansas City. His work was purchased by some major collections and impressive individual collectors. He concentrated mainly on landscapes, airplanes and figure work, primarily in black and white. He was envied for his masterful shooting and printing techniques; he was asked to teach at Johnson County Community College. He was an enthusiastic and popular instructor.
Speaking at the opening of his 50 Year Retrospective
When the digital age dawned, Richard was one of the first to jump on board. He quickly discovered that digital capture allowed him to finally get the color he had always wanted (but had never quite achieved) with film. This guy was like a kid in a candy store when it came to all things digital. So many tools! So many controls! Not only did he educate himself, he took the time to impart his knowledge to those of us who were terrified and intimidated about making the jump from film. He was a generous and patient teacher.
He served as mentor to me when I struck out to make my own pictures after closing The Baker Gallery. Richard built my wet darkroom back then, and in more recent years, he built my digital darkroom. We were members together in a seven-person photo salon that met periodically to talk shop, eat barbeque and critique each other’s work. We celebrated our birthdays together. We traded prints. He took my son Max to his first air show.
Needless to say, over these thirty years, he and I have became very dear friends. There wasn’t anything we wouldn’t do for the other.
Last spring Richard was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Our photo salon has rallied around him and tried to help him through this horrible detour in his life. In June, he opted for major surgery, from which he has never fully recovered. The cancer has now spread to his liver.
This past Monday, after months of excruciating pain and the inability to graduate from a feeding tube to the dinner table, Richard was moved to Kansas City Hospice.