Picture-perfect couple captures stunning landscape images

It’s an age-old story, right? Boy meets girl. They get married, combine their love of photography to start a business and drive off into the sunset in their Ford F-350 4-by-4 outfitted with a camper to wander through national parks shooting photos and live happily ever after.

Well, maybe not an age-old story, but definitely one we’re hearing more and more these days as people trade in cubicle life for van life. And Buena Vista artists John and Coleen Graybill have recently done just that.

After meeting a year and half ago via a mutual friend, they married in January and moved into John’s former vacation cabin (he transplanted to BV full time two years ago) and live there when they’re not on the road taking pictures.

John, an Eagle Scout, said his connection to the camera began in fifth grade and continued into college with a degree in photography. His focus has always been on landscape photography and fine art.

Colleen, known widely for her Tenacious Photography portrait and wedding photos, said her previous landscape photos primarily stemmed from camping trips with friends. (Colleen is a Girl Scout First Class – which John jokingly but seriously doubts is the true equivalent of an Eagle Scout). Since meeting and tying the knot, Coleen and John have banded together to form Mountain Spirit Photography and now take landscape photos full time.

Their work will be on display at The Watershed in Buena Vista during the entire month of July. Watershed creators Katy Welter and Rick Bieterman will host an artists’ reception for Mountain Spirit Photography from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on July 16. They first met Coleen at a Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce After Hours event. Rick characterizes his personal take on her work in this way: “Her style really captures the eye and the soul; her artwork has a way of calming and slowing down time. Her work in Watershed focuses in on the Ark Valley and all its beauty and her photo collection of self-made ‘rock stacks’ really makes you appreciate the balance between art, nature and the human spirit.”

John explained that he and Coleen were drawn to the community of like-minded artists coming together at The Watershed. “The show will be in the heart of Main Street. It’s a good place to get exposure this time of year.” The show encompasses not only the rock balancing series by Coleen, but also some of John’s iPhone photos taken locally.

Rock balancing began for Coleen about five years ago when she came across some images during an online Google search for cairns. “I remember gathering up all the rocks I have around my house – because I’m constantly collecting rocks – and started playing with them. I sent some photos to my sons and it took off from there. Sometimes I get too busy and I don’t have the time I’d like to settle in at a river and spend some time playing.”

For folks fascinated with Coleen’s rock balancing photos, she’ll be offering a brief lesson and a rock-balancing competition on Sunday, July 16, at 5 p.m. at Watershed. The event will be followed by Watershed’s storytelling evening, and Coleen will share a story along with three other BV locals – Chancy Parsons, Lynn Reitmeyer and Sarah Kuhn. The theme of the night is “The Unexpected.”

Coleen and John’s next road trip will begin Aug. 1 when they set out to photograph wildflowers in Mt. Rainier National Park. “We kept finding that our shoots were several hours from a hotel, so we picked up a badass truck and camper and now we just step out of the camper and are on location at the right time for lighting. We’re self-sustained with a generator and solar power, and we carry our own water so we can go to remote locations,” John said.

They’ve recently acquired a new toy – a drone – to add to their collection of photo equipment. Throughout the summer they’ll be experimenting with it and adding more Chaffee County drone photos to their body of work. The couple won’t be taking it to Mt. Rainier, however, because as John noted, drones are not allowed in national parks.

To view, purchase or learn more about Mountain Spirit Photography online, visit mtnspiritphoto.com.