Geographical journey

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Stephen Ruddock was in Mexico City for the Grand Prix auto races in 1986 when the direction of his life changed. Until then, he had been an auto mechanic and a race fan. But after the race, he attended a slide show during which the photographer handed out a mimeographed sheet of directions on how to take pictures.

"Until then, I always borrowed my mother's camera," Ruddock said. "But after that I discovered that I had a talent. After that, I wanted to be a photographer."

By 1991, Ruddock was on the masthead of Auto Week Magazine as a photographer.

Auto racing was a natural subject matter for him, and his assignments sent him all over the world.

For years, Ruddock lived in Ward and drove into Boulder to his Porsche repair business. He moved to Steamboat in 1997 and took a job at Snow Photo for the winter season. It was the first time in his life that he made a full-time living as a photographer. But it won't be the last, he said.

When the season ended, Ruddock returned to the life of an auto mechanic, repairing Subarus for Checkpoint Auto, but he continued to freelance for magazines at Formula One races all over the world.

"I've gone everywhere from Montreal to Vancouver to Buenos Aires and everywhere in between," he said.

But he started to notice that his photographs lost relevancy as time passed. A photo of a race was old news not long after he took it.

He was in South America for a month taking photos for On Track Magazine when he decided to broaden his photographic horizons.

"The races were one and two weeks apart so I got a chance to travel," he said.

That's when he went to Peru for the first time -- the first of six visits. (He's going again in July.)

He headed to Parque Nacional Huascaran.

"The park is 110 miles long and 12 miles wide, which isn't very big, but inside there are 30 peaks that are taller than 6,000 meters," he said.

All the trailheads in the park are accessible by minibus or taxi -- and visiting is cheap, he said.

"I've never spent more than $580 on a ticket to Lima, Peru," he said. "And guides cost $20 a day."

He is fascinated by the Inca culture remaining in Peru, but he goes to take pictures of the mountains, he said.

"I ride seven hours on a bus for the mountains, not for the people," he said. "If I wanted to take pictures of people, I would go to Guatemala."

Ninety percent of his South American photos are of the dramatic Peruvian peaks.

"There are some good pictures that I can take from the road," he said. "My picture of Huandoy Mountain I took after I stepped off the bus. Another I had to hike a day to take."

Because of the beauty and the history, Peru is a popular destination for tourists and their cameras. Nonetheless, Ruddock is convinced the photos he takes, including those of popular tourist destinations such as the ruins of Machu Picchu, are unique.

"OK, so everyone goes to Machu Picchu," he said. "They probably even take a photo from the same spot that I did, but they didn't spend the entire day sitting there, waiting for a ray of sunlight to break through the clouds and shine on the ruins."

The final photo took hours of waiting, but only three or four clicks of the shutter to capture once the light was right.

Ruddock will show 140 slides next Thursday night at the Depot, and he will narrate the presentation.

"I want it to feel like a journey rather than a random group of images. I want them to feel as if they are hiking with me," he said. "When they leave, they will feel like they've been there."

Slides will be organized geographically, in the order a traveler would experience the sights.

Digital prints of the work will be available for sale the night of the show.

Ruddock's ultimate goal is to become a full-time photographer, he said. "And I will. I have confidence in my ability and in my talent.

"Thousands of people walk along the Inca Trail, but they walk right by things and they don't even realize that it's a good picture. That's what I do well.

"Now that I've got this ball rolling, I'm going to keep pushing it as far as I can."

Ruddock's work can be viewed on www.stephenrruddockphotography.com

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