When disruption and tragedy strike, as terrible as that can be, it can be an opening to seeing another way of living, to power us to live as fully as we can. We never know how long we have to love the people that surround us, how many more summers we may have to savor, and how much longer we have to put off our dreams. It is in these moments that we often come to understand that now is the time, and if not now, this moment may pass and never come back. Six years ago, Kevin Noble tragically and suddenly and crushingly lost his amazing 18-year-old son to a sudden unknown heart condition. The gigawatt smile of his beloved son was gone.
Anger and confusion swirled, but he made a decision to move forward in life with the purpose of looking for and recording beauty. It involved some risk — showing his work publicly and even going back to school, at 57, in Paris to gain a master’s in photography. One can never say tragedy is a gift; it isn’t. But it can be a clarifying window allowing us to move on a different track if that is what we choose to do.
How old are you?
Most of the time I’m a 27-year-old stuck in a 57-year-old body. I think that is either the blessing or the curse with aging: age is determined on your desire to stay youthful.
Where are you from and where are you currently based?
I grew up on the east coast in Philly and the Jersey shore with 4 sisters and a brother. My family would load up the van and pop-up camper and head west to Yellowstone for summer vacations. Those fond memories are probably one of the biggest reasons I now call Montana home.
Have you always lived in the west?
After graduating from Penn State, I moved to California and enjoyed the sun and surf in Manhattan Beach where I met my wife.
“When someone close to you passes, you gain clarity in what’s really important”
I met and married the love of my life 30 years ago. She is my sunshine and a beauty inside and out. As the saying goes, I definitely out-kicked my coverage.
The kids question is where my sad story and heartbreak begins. In fact, I’m tearing up just answering these questions. I’ll start with what I call a true gift from God, our daughter Ashley. She came early in our relationship and was a true blessing. I am so proud of the person she has become.
Now this is the hard part because the wind is still knocked out of me after more than 6 years. Our 18-year-old son, Tanner, passed away suddenly on the mountain in Big Sky, Montana. It’s been 6 years but it feels like yesterday. He was a beautiful young man with what we call a “gigawatt smile.” He was a member of the cross country Texas High School state championship team. He looked as healthy as you could get, but an unknown heart condition took him from us. He was so full of life and a happy soul. Days before, I had remarked that I was truly the happiest I’ve ever been in my life; and then the darkest days came.
How did you get into photography?
I’ve always dreamed of becoming a photographer but with a young family I needed a steady paycheck so I put the dream on a back burner. After Tanner passed away everything changed and both my wife and I decided to pursue our passions in art. When someone close to you passes, you gain clarity in what’s really important and what doesn’t matter at all.
Why wildlife photography?
I was interviewed a few months ago while sitting in our barn gallery and was asked the same question. It’s funny; I was confused by the question and said, “I’m not a ‘wildlife’ photographer.” As the words left my mouth, we both looked around the gallery and saw almost all of my pieces were wildlife. The interviewer just stared at me quizzically. The fact is, I see myself as a photographer or artist looking for beauty… currently that beauty is everything Yellowstone. That will change; there’s too much beauty in the world to see and share.
Have you ever had any frightening encounters with the animals?
I had a close encounter with a wolf that wasn’t dangerous but was a lifetime memory for me. It happened last spring, the day the west entrance opened to Yellowstone. I came across 3 wolves in Yellowstone trotting down the middle of the road in the snow. Most people don’t realize this but there are, on average, only 100 wolves in the park spread out over 2.5 million acres. So finding a wolf is difficult, especially seeing a wolf up-close.
I managed to get ahead of the 3 wolves, and I set up with my camera kneeling in the snow next to my van. The black and dark gray eventually peeled off and headed for the safety of the woods, but the light gray continued towards me. And she was the one I wanted to photograph. She was almost white, and without question the most beautiful wolf I had ever seen. Many wolves are naturally skittish of humans and vehicles, but others are indifferent. This light gray was curious and unafraid as she loped toward me along her path. I banged off a few photos and pinched myself knowing how fortunate I was to be there at the right place and right time. I had exited the van through the passenger sliding door and was now kneeling in the snow against the driver-side door. I respect the rules in the park and, as she got closer, I reached up and tried to open the door but found that door locked, and I had left my keys in it. I knelt back down and decided not to move for fear of startling her. My camera with my long lens was now useless because I foolishly allowed myself to become too close. She continued on her path and trotted right past me. She was so close I could have reached out and touched her. All I could do was just stay still and enjoy the incredible moment as she passed by me in the silence.
“I love to shoot during the most extreme times of the winter”
A number of your images seem to be in very cold conditions. How do you stay warm and how do you keep your equipment from freezing?
I love to shoot during the most extreme times of the winter. The colder the better for me. When most people are taking comfort from the freezing temperatures in front of a warm fire, I’m out in Yellowstone searching for frozen bison or chasing wolves. I pack plenty of hand warmers that I keep in my pockets with my extra camera batteries. Last winter, I added heated glove liners and heated socks. What a difference that makes! The trick is keeping the batteries charged long enough.
This past year, we had an extreme cold front come through and it reached 40 degrees below zero. I was one of the few in the park and captured an iconic image of a frozen bison marching down the middle of the road. It was so cold my vehicle’s dashboard was lit up with all of the warning lights, my camera wasn’t working well and my hands were numb. 40 below is a different kind of cold. My experience in Montana has been anything under 5 degrees is considered cold.
How do you go about getting these images?
A lot of patience and cold days. I primarily shoot during the winter, which lasts about six months here in Yellowstone country. My goal is to get one or maybe two images per month. That’s it; I’m very selective. I really have to be convinced the image is worthy enough to sign my name to it.
Are there days, times of day, or areas you know work well?
Naturally, the light is always the best during sunrise and sunset hours which makes for long days. I travel in a camper van so during the midday I can grab a quick nap if I need one. I spend a lot of my time in Yellowstone but also consider the Grand Teton area part of my prime territory.
Tell us about your own journey. The images seem to be about strength and vulnerability, and we are wondering if there is a parallel to your own life.
I spent the first half of my life building a company that started with just two people, and grew it to a size that employed a couple hundred people. It was rewarding in some ways, but I eventually grew to believe I was missing out on a simpler, more fulfilling life. We sold the company when I turned 50, just a short time before our son passed, so a lot of things rocked my world all at one time; and so I began searching for purpose and meaning.
I have a saying: “We feed our souls with the beauty and magic of Yellowstone. A place this wondrous can only exist by design, and that belief restores our hope and faith.” After our son passed, I was very angry for awhile. I came to realize I had two ways to deal with the pain. Either drown myself in a bottle or search for peace and meaning. I do that by searching for beauty in Yellowstone and sharing that with others. I think there is something unusually special about the park. Millions of visitors come to Yellowstone every year, and I think many of them are searching for something. Most of them leave the park happier, and with more hope in their hearts. You just feel better about the world after witnessing its beauty.
What is it that you have learned from doing this work?
Patience. I’m not a naturally patient person. It’s hard for me to sit still and to wait for things to happen; I tend to be the type to bulldoze my way through things that need more patience. My wife reminds me to “let things simmer” a little.
What is the effect you are looking to have on the viewer?
I want to share the magic and beauty of Yellowstone. I hope my images bring both inspiration and hopefulness.
What is your editing process?
My process is fairly simple. I try to frame my shot in the viewfinder as I take it so I don’t need to crop my image. I need all of the pixels available because I need the resolution to print my large pieces. The one thing I am particular about is keeping my whites consistent. I have a great print lab that handles that for me. It’s important because I love the white backdrop the winters provide, and I use that negative space as an important part of my style.
“I think we find peace by eliminating as much noise as possible”
How has your own age informed your work?
I think with age you realize that less is more. And I think that can also be applied to an art style. In the end, I think we find peace by eliminating as much noise as possible.
What are your ambitions for the next 10 years?
I’m continually learning new techniques to refine my minimalistic style. Last year, we spent 3 months living in Paris and loved it. I was getting my master’s degree in photography at 57 years old and I’m glad to report I was not the oldest in the program. It was interesting going back to school, but also exciting. Of course there were classes that I could have been teaching, but I was there to learn other aspects of photography like studio portraits. I’m fascinated by environmental portraits that tell a story in a single image. The experience of living in a city like Paris for 3 months was incredible, and we plan to choose other cities and continue those 3-month experiences. It’s much different living in a new place for that long compared to cramming everything into a week-long vacation.
What are you doing to take care of your body?
Exercise is a huge part of my life. It of course helps you physically, but I find it even more important for my mental and emotional health. If I get stuck in a sad mood, I’ll “work it out” by exercising hard. I try to start my day with 100 push-ups and 100 squats with my first cup of coffee. Bozeman is a fabulously active city, big into mountain biking and hiking.
What music have you been listening to recently?
I’ve been binging Chris Stapleton, which is new for me because I’ve never been into country. Also, I grew up during the best time in music and can’t get enough of the ’80s.
What are the 3 non-negotiables in your life?
1. Be kind. It’s not a difficult thing to do. This includes embracing others who live their lives differently. I especially dislike bullying of people with different ideas. Let others live their life the way they choose. We are all beautifully different so let’s let each other live our best lives.
2. Love your loved ones in a big way. Nothing else really matters.
3. Live life. Seize every moment you can, and don’t waste time on things that don’t matter. We are only here for a short time so make it count.
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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.
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