● By Sandie Tillery
story: Sandie Tilery photo: Jim Arnold
FRANK KRATOFIL'S LOVE OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Sometime around 3:30 to 4 am, Frank Kratofil eagerly hunts for the perfect shot where first light frosts the horizon. As the earliest rays of sunlight broaden their line along the landscape, this hunter hopes to capture in vivid focus with his camera what he sees through eyes that once were legally blind. He waits patiently for the “WOW!” that excites him on his pre-dawn excursions and attempts to shoot it digitally for others to later enjoy in his photographs.
Kratofil, a chiropractor with a thriving practice in Redding, has created a very intentional lifestyle. His passion for life has grown out of great challenges that he and his wife Cheryl have faced together. When they first met in the Bay Area, he had already decided that to be productive, he needed to pursue a career where he could use his hands. Chiropractic was his way to help others that didn’t depend so much on his eyesight. Cheryl became his eyes.
Later, corneal transplants restored his sight and “by God’s grace I can see,” he says. Now his avocation has grown into a passion to “try to show people the beauty of what I see.” He doesn’t take life for granted. Cheryl, a long-time educator in the Redding area, now struggles with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis. Together, Frank and Cheryl have chosen to embrace today, and as often as possible, with their 7-year-old grandson Trent in tow, they take road trips to North State locations where the wildlife and landscapes add color, light and joy to their lives.
Originally, Kratofil used an old-fashioned large format 4x5 with heavy backpack lens and film holders. When his camera fell into a lake and couldn’t be repaired, he had to rethink his methods. Inspired by the panoramic photography of Eric Marshall, a local engineer, pilot and photographer, and Marshall’s encouragement, Kratofil has moved into the digital age. With help from friend and photographer Jim Arnold, he now uses his computer to “stitch” together high-dynamic range photographs, giving a broader view in many of his pieces than he was able to capture before. He says he doesn’t “contrive” things on the computer. “What you see is what I see,” he says of the landscapes and wildlife he captures and prints. Kratofil may use a neutral density filter or polarizer, but otherwise strives to produce in print exactly what his eyes see.
On a recent trip to Mt. Shasta and Tulelake with Trent, they watched and waited and clicked their Nikon digital single-lens reflex cameras as a big deer in rut sauntered by. Trent’s sharp eyes found a great horned owl perched discreetly in the crux of a tree, now displayed like a hunting trophy in vivid photographic detail. Kratofil describes his subject matter as very “opportunistic,” though he often scouts out the best spot where light will heighten the impact of the image he might capture. But, he is happy to wait to see what wildlife comes his way.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a favorite destination for the Kratofils. They look forward to parking their travel trailer in a picturesque spot where Cheryl can rest and wait for Frank to return with his captured images. They share time together in the park as often as possible. “Time spent with family is most important,” he says.
Kratofil has developed a work schedule that allows him to take time for family, friends and photography. Many patients have become friends, his compassion and care for them as intense as his passion and love for all of life. “I really enjoy my job,” he says. “Getting my patients better is a high priority. They are important to me, even beyond the job.” His office is a veritable gallery of his work, images that create a mood, inspire and elicit a sense of joy for his patients. Sales of his photographs certainly don’t pay his bills, but they help pay for supplies. He never wants it to be a business. “If I get a fancy, I want to go,“ he says. But, he states, “If I don’t get the shot, I had a beautiful day out.” He simply loves spotting for animals—bucks, hawks, owls—and always hopes to catch the light along the edge of a storm.
Periodicals including “Outdoor California” and “Wild Bird” have published Kratofil’s photographs and he has been a contributor to Enjoy. His work can be seen in many businesses around town including Redding Printing, The Best Western on Hilltop Drive, Haedrich & Co., California Fish and Game and SHASCOM. He has shown his work twice during Redding’s 2nd Saturday Art Hop at Graphic Emporium, and closed out 2009 with his second contribution to a group show at HDR Imaging.