Jennifer Kersten's first camera was small and plastic with 110 film and a square pop flash. It was a camera she begged her parents to give her for Christmas. The then third-grader quickly became an annoyance at family parties, recording everything she saw.
In high school, with a camera she borrowed from her older sister, Kersten entered a slide-show contest with her photos of an early morning garden, set to the Cat Stevens song "Morning has Broken." She won.
"My teacher urged me to pursue a career in photography," Kersten said. "Instead, I studied French and international relations. I don't think I picked up a camera for those four years."
After graduation, Kersten moved to Steamboat Springs to kill some time before her Peace Corps assignment. It was the sight of an old cabin on the side of a rural road that made Kersten want to pick up a camera again.
"Everytime I drove by, I wanted to photograph it," she said. "I had a need to get lost in that creative process again."
She bought a sturdy, manual SLR 35 mm camera, perfect for her two years in Guinea, West Africa.
"I carried (the camera) everywhere," she said. "I remember having it with me in the desert, and a girl told me that having the camera kept me from seeing things. But it wasn't until that moment that I realized the camera helped me really see. It was deepening my experience."
It also was keeping her sane. During the two years Kersten spent in the Peace Corps, Guinea was at the bottom of the United Nations' Physical Quality of Life Index.
"It was a difficult place to be," she said. "It's a beautiful country unless you are in town. There is so much hardship. But with my camera, I was constantly looking for the beauty and the positive emotion as opposed to the difficulties."
Toward the end of her term in Guinea, Kersten listened as fellow Peace Corps volunteers made plans for law school, which had once been her plan, as well.
"But all I knew was that I wanted to move to Steamboat," she said. "And I knew I wanted to pursue photography."
Now 34, Kersten is having her first solo exhibit, a colorful exploration of the area in summertime, including several macro studies of flowers.
Her photos will come as a needed relief to Steamboat residents growing tired of the monochromatic world of slush and crust.
One of her most popular images, "Diamond Lines," was taken last June behind the Depot Art Center. The viewer sees straight down the train tracks to Sleeping Giant. It had just rained and the 7 p.m. sun was out again. Kersten had been on the bridge photographing kayakers and turned around to see the entire scene, green and glowing from the moisture and the light.
In Kersten's landscapes, the eye often is following a line drawn across the scene by something such as a train track or, in the case of a photo she took on Buffalo Pass, a buck rail fence.
For eight years, every time she passed that fence, she thought about photographing it. She finally brought her camera to the spot last spring.
Each one of Kersten's pieces is blown up as large as she can make it using a drum scanner and finished as high quality, giclee prints.
"My goal is to print really big and see what happens," she said. In a series of photographs titled Columbine I, II and III, the viewer is brought into the body of the flower. Kersten photographed that same flower on the side of the road in Dakota Ridge for 1 1/2 hours.
"I really worked that flower," she said. "With a macro lens, you can get closer to an object and see it in an abstract way. To me, the flower itself is not interesting. It's the color."
She purposely chose to show her colorful images today because this is the time of year when "everyone is kind of over it," she said. "They are ready to see some color."