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Ely nature photographer to exhibit at MN West

brian korthals/Daily Globe Nature photographer Steve Foss of Ely will exhibit his work at the Minnesota West Fine Arts building beginning Saturday, with an artist's reception from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibit will run through Oct. 14.

WORTHINGTON -- He's been a taxi driver, a gold miner, a pizza store manager and a community organizer. He also helped the Grand Forks Herald of North Dakota earn a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for coverage of the Red River Flood.

Steve Foss, whose nature photography will be featured during an exhibit at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus, is a dedicated outdoorsman.

"A friend in the Worthington area suggested I have a show at Minnesota West and helped me make in happen," Foss explained. "We fish together, he's seen my work, and we're both members of Hot Spot Outdoors."

"All of my life, my main interest has been wildlife and the outdoors," Foss said. "I've been part of it, no matter where I lived."

His work will be featured at the Fine Arts Building on the Minnesota West campus this Saturday through Oct. 14.

Foss spent several years working for the Grand Forks Herald and Duluth News Tribune before taking the position as editor of the Ely Timberjay. He wrote a book titled, "Lake Vermilion: A Multi-species Fishing Guide to Northern Minnesota's Crown Jewel" and has photos published in publications such as National Geographic Adventure, Bird Watcher's Digest and Birders World. He is a lake trout fishing guide and is developing an interest in black spruce bogs. In other words, Foss is a busy man who has been carrying a camera around since he was a teen.

"I first picked up a camera when I was 16," Foss explained. "A friend had checked out a few from the high school photography class, and ever since then I have photographed things with different levels of interest, but that interest has always been there."

Born in LaCrosse, Wis., Foss grew up in Grand Forks, N.D., and went to high school and college there. Afterward, he said, he proceeded to wander. He mined gold in Colorado at 10,000 feet, canvassed and lobbied over environmental issues in the Twin Cities, and eventually ended up back in North Dakota. In 1998, while working as an assignment editor for the Grand Forks Herald, he sent a reporter out to speak with photographer Jim Brandenburg, who had recently published the book "Chased By the Light." He edited the story and was intrigued.

"I knew of and was inspired by Jim's work, and started to think about Ely and the area," he said.

In 2001, he and his wife Lisa moved to Duluth, and in 2003 headed to Ely.

"The moment I hit town, I started doing nature photography," Foss remembered. "At the Timberjay, I was a reporter, page designer, photographer and more, but I really started gaining a fan base with my photography."

He had interviewed Brandenburg a couple of times by then, and he and his wife went out to Ravenwood to meet him after they arrived in Ely.

"He was a great host -- gracious, interested and engaging," Foss said. "I took a photo a while later of Meander Lake, and it was shot with slide film. I showed Jim the slide, and he allowed me to borrow some help. I paid his assistant to scan and prep the slide, and we printed it on their photo printer. In my world, that makes him a good neighbor. He wasn't worried about the competition. He wanted to help me get going. These days there are so many catty people, but that's not Jim."

In 2007, Foss made the somewhat scary decision to leave the paper and dive head-first into photography.

"I was 45 years old, and realized if I didn't do it then, I might lose the courage it took to do so," he said with a smile. "My advice to anyone who wants to start something like this is, 'Keep your day job, get photo gigs on the side and keep going until you gain enough confidence to dump the day job.'"

He doesn't just limit himself to nature photography -- Steve Foss Images includes wedding and portrait work, producing prints and teaching. He does guided photo excursions and nature photography workshops.

His website,, was actually up and running before he went out on his own. Having a wife who is a graphic designer and website builder is a handy thing, he said with a grin.

Traditionally, photography businesses base income on selling prints, but Foss does not. His print sales, he explained, underpin the workshops and excursions. As much as he loves to take pictures, he also loves to teach.

"I really like helping others achieve art and teaching them to interpret the world as they see it," he admitted. "I've had almost 200 clients in five years, and I hope that I teach and inspire people as much as the art I create inspires people. I want to inspire others to be amazing artists. I love to see people 'get it.' They feel something about life they didn't see before, and I get to be there to see the light come on."

Foss is proud of his work and said he loves the feeling of catching a new moment or a scene. It gets his heart pumping, he admitted.

"But there are some of the classics that get my heart pumping, too," he added.

Foss will be at the college for an artist reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, and encourages nature lovers and aspiring photographers to stop in for a chat.

"We all live in the middle of nature all day every day," he stated. "You might find a nature you've never seen before. Is there a better way to spend your time? Come discover your true nature about you."