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Capturing imagery one memory at a time: Our Neighbor Jeremy Riffe

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

“Sometimes you get a good sunrise and sometimes you don’t, but it’s the memories that you make,” said Jeremy Riffe. “Every photograph is a memory.”

Jeremy Riffe is the photographer whose show, entitled NRV Reveries, is now on display at the Fine Arts Center for the NRV.

“I picked some images that were almost dreamlike and somewhat mysterious,” said Riffe of his show. “I try and make my images simple, yet interesting at the same time.”

NRV Reveries features 31 photographs, many of which are printed on metal or metallic paper.

“It’s kind of a flashy format,” said Jeremy of his artistic medium. “It really captures your eye.”

The subject matter of NRV Reveries will likely prove familiar to many of those visiting the latest exhibit at the FAC, as scenes of downtown Pulaski figure prominently is this show.

“The Main Street just has that charm,” said Jeremy. “Much like in Bluefield, the industry that brought a lot of people here influenced the buildings they built in town and I just started seeing all these compositions.”

The reason Riffe had seen these compositions in the first place relates to … Pokeymon Go! Ever heard of it?

Jeremy Riffe mentioned Bluefield because he grew up in nearby Abbs Valley, Virginia. He graduated from Graham High School in 1993.

His grandfather was a Baptist preacher in the coalfields of McDowell County and his mother grew up in Pocahontas, or “the original coal boom town,” as Jeremy calls it. It was his mother, who first sparked his interest in photography.

“When I was young and there was a beautiful sunset, I would just run out and grab a shot of it with one of her cameras,” Jeremy recounted.  “This was in the film days, so when the photos came back, she was like, ‘Who took these pictures?’ I said it was me and she said, ‘Those are really good!’ That kind of encouraged me and had been an early motivator for me to get into it.”

Riffe was living in the Bluefield area but the death of his father in the late 90’s set him on a new path.

“I needed a change because that was really tough to deal with,” said Riffe. “I had some friends who were in Charlotte and they said, ‘Dude, Come down, you can stay on our couch until you get on your feet.’ And that’s what I did. So it was a good life experience. It taught me how to be self-sufficient. It taught me a lot of responsibility and I grew up pretty quick during that period of time.”

Though having taken an interest in photography at an early age, through the years, Riffe had let his interest wane. His move south brought a change in attitude.

“I was doing a lot of hiking … a lot of soul searching,” he recounted. “I was young and it was a tough loss for me to deal with. The creative process … the whole photographic process gave me something to focus on and was really beneficial to my mental health. It gave me a goal to kind of keep me motivated in life.”

Riffe bought a Canon Rebel in 2001 and starting taking photographs regularly. Then the father of his sister-in-law, a retired college photography professor, decided to clear his closet of the photo equipment he’d gathered through the years and give it all to Jeremy.

“He gave me another SLR camera, a slide projector, a screen, some camera gear and some pointers about composition,” Jeremy recounted. “He was like, ‘This is how you want to compose your shots’ and just kind of gave me a push to go out there and do it. So I did and I’ve kept doing it throughout the years.”

Jeremy kept taking photos but he rarely showed them to other people. He had found steady work in North Carolina installing fiber optic networks. That went well, until the Tech Bubble burst and Jeremy found himself out of work and struggling financially.

His brother was attending Virginia Tech at the time and asked if Jeremy would like to come live with him and his wife in Christiansburg. So he moved to the NRV, and not long after found a job as a sales rep with Central Garden and Pets, a job he maintains to this day.

Jeremy moved to Dublin in 2005. His mother passed away in December 2006.

In March 2007, Jeremy’s son Corey was born.

“With that second loss of a parent, I focused on my boy and took pictures of him just to keep going,” said Riffe. “The creative process has been very, very good for my mental health.”

With the advent of social media, Jeremy began posting his photographs for all the world to see … and the world seemed to like what they saw.

“Once I started sharing it, people were really receptive to it,” said Riffe. “That reception on Facebook and Pulaski Talk of the Town kind of gave me a spark to do more and so I did.”

This prompted Riffe to print his photos and begin selling them at the Palisades Restaurant and Gift shop in Giles county. He continued taking photographs, primarily of landscapes, of the NRV, Bluefield and the mountains of North Carolina but his day job kept him very busy and so did looking after his son Corey, who he saw most every weekend.

“Life happens, right?” asked Jeremy. “It’s tough to retain the motivation, the drive to do it. I was burned out and I hadn’t picked up my camera for a couple of years but then Pokemon Go!  happened and my son really enjoyed playing it.”

For a while there, lots of people played Pokemon Go! Which came in the form of an App that could be downloaded to a hand held devise, like a phone. The goal is to track down these Pokemon characters and collect them from various locations. Downtown Pulaski was chocked full of these virtual Pokemon prizes and the pursuit of this game led Jeremy’s son Corey to the historic streets of downtown.

“We were exploring the town on foot and so that started getting me to bring my camera out.” Jeremy explained. “When we were playing Pokemon, I would bring my camera and start taking pictures again. A lot of what’s going to be in this exhibit was a direct result from that. I started seeing the architecture of downtown Pulaski. I started telling people that Pulaski was a great place to take pictures. Lots of character and a lot of interesting subjects.”

NRV Reveries shows familiar scenes that are never the less presented in such a way as to be fresh and yes, somewhat dreamy. Riffe has honed his photographic techniques down through the years.

“When you’re shooting a scene, it’s good to have an emotional attachment to the scene,” said Riffe. “But sometimes that can be a hinderance because you get that initial excitement from capturing that image but it may not be the greatest picture.”

“So I think it’s good to let the image sit for a couple of weeks and then come back and revisit it. Let that emotional attachment wear off because it may or may not be the best image and if you come back to it after that initial excitement wears off and you view the image objectively. If it’s still good, then I’m going to keep it.”

“But sometimes, I’m like, ‘I don’t know what I was thinking here.’ So, it taught me to slow down the process. I think I’m an impatient person by nature but when it comes to photography I’ve learned to be very, very patient.”

Riffe’s patience has apparently paid off and today, he is the featured artist of the Fine Arts Center. Some of his shots can also be seen posted in conjunction with the newly created Pulaski County Tourism department.

“I saw in The Southwest Times that they hired Peggy White as a new Tourism Director,” Jeremy recounted. “She and I had been Facebook friends and I reached out to her and said, I’ve got some images of the area, that I think they will help you out. She was very receptive to it and it’s been a welcome change. It’s a great moral booster to know that a picture you take can make people want to visit a certain spot.”

Jeremy Riffe enjoys living in Dublin. After all, the area is quite scenic … in the right light.

“I like to go around and scout out locations,” said Riffe. “I’ve got a lot of local places where I can be at a moment’s notice and go really quick if the conditions are looking right.”

“Sometimes you may go chasing sunsets and it’s … it’s a dud. But sometimes it’s fantastic and it will just blow your mind. A lot of it is the experience, the adventure of going and doing it. Especially with my son.”

“My son told me once that ‘Dad you never meet a stranger out here. It’s like you just make friends with people.’ The good thing about it is that if you meet someone in a beautiful location at sunrise, you automatically have something in common with them. That’s half the battle with getting to know people is finding things you have in common … shared interests.”

“I think people of this county really support anything positive about their county,” declared Riffe. “There’s a sense of pride here within the people.”

Check out Jeremy Riffe’s show, NRV Reveries, at the Fine Arts Center of the NRV at 21 W. Main Street in Pulaski.

His website, jeremyriffephotography.com,  is also well worth a visit.

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