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Aerial photographs capture Southern California landscapes

March 13, 2010 |  8:30 am

Lines Aerial photographer Bill Dewey can never forget the exhilaration he felt on his first airplane ride as a boy, flying among the clouds high above the Borrego Desert. "The magic of flying is astonishing," said Dewey of that initial flight, courtesy of his dad, a World War II Army pilot. That thrill has stayed with him as he parlayed his passion for flying and photography into a career capturing the ever-changing Southern California landscape from a bird's-eye view.

His recent photos will be on view Saturday through May 2 at Easton Gallery in Montecito. The collection consists of more than 20 of his top picks over the last two years documenting scenes from Baja to the Channel Islands.

The main focus of his work is a subject he never tires of, his home of Santa Barbara Country. He ventured from the dunes of Oceano and newly cultivated vineyards of the Santa Rita Hills to the wilderness of the back country. "The California landscape is changing so rapidly, with development, erosion and even the vineyards," said Ellen Easton, owner of Easton Gallery. "Not only are his photos incredibly beautiful, but he's able to use them as a documentary tool to capture the way the geography looks in its current state."


Easton starting showing his artwork 20 years ago when he was working as a commercial photographer. "It wasn't until I started flying with him did I realize and appreciate how truly extraordinary the landscape was with these astonishing views of the meandering tributaries, patterns of the vineyards and weather clouds," Easton said. Dewey shoots with a digital Nikon from his Cessna 172, usually about 1,000 feet above ground level, depending on the region. The Cessna is a high-wing airplane that lends itself to being a stable platform granting unimpeded visual access of the undulating hills, rugged valleys and shorelines below.

A series of his photographs from the Carrizo Plain, the area east of San Luis Obispo and north of Cuyama, appeared a few years ago in The Times documenting the shifting of the tectonic plates and resulting ridges and remarkable patterns of the San Andreas fault.

Dewey often designs flights to revisit his favorite spots, such as Catalina and the Channel Islands. He says his inspiration is to capture what he remembers the California coast used to be like. "The images call out to me, and when I get back to the studio I try to re-create something that mimics what I remember," he said.

"Southern California is my home ground," said Dewey, who was born in San Diego and raised in Los Angeles. "Some day I may foray beyond the borders, but my interest in California is so great, I may never go beyond and still be happy.

— Liesl Bradner

Photos: Agricultural patterns of a variety of lettuces in northern Santa Barbara County (top); the Colorado River Delta, showing the expansive flats at the apex of the Sea of Cortez in Baja California (below).