By Kathleen Sabella
World-class photographer Jon Deshler has shot everything from goat cheese to Tyke the Elephant to the gender bending Julia Sweeney.
But shooting cheetahs in his Marquam studio is a whole different “big game.” How do you pose the fastest land animal on the planet?
Does “say cheese” work? Hardly.
Deshler said it takes a lot of raw meat and several trained handlers from the Oregon Wildlife Safari to get the perfect pose.
The result? A series of stunning photos to be used in an upcoming ad campaign for the Cheetah Conservation Fund. It was Dr. Laurie Marker, the founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, who inspired Deshler to help save this elegant feline. Engineered for speed, the cheetah can accelerate 0-60 mph in 3 seconds. The cheetah has existed for 5 million years, making it the oldest of the big cats.
“My desire was to shoot individual as well as intimate portraits of these unique animals and create a body of work that represent this magnificent and world’s oldest cat species that happen to reside right here in Oregon,” Deshler said.
A native Californian, Deshler now considers himself an Oregonian, going so far as to rebuff a complaint about the rainy weather. “You need water to get all this bounty, water is the blood of life,” Deshler said. “The grass is literally greener here than Los Angeles.”
This abundance of life and the natural world is what he treasures and wishes to preserve. Deshler’s motto is “communicate, cultivate and create.” In Oregon, he has found the perfect environment to do all three.
Music and photography are the twin strands of Deshler’s creative DNA. Music is his first love and serendipitously led him to a career in photography.
Deshler said his mentor and junior high music teacher John Stankiewiz took his students to a weekend jazz festival. Deshler recalls using the camera his father had given him to photograph legendary jazz musician Curtis Mayfield.
The walls of Deshler’s studio are lined with a myriad of jazz greats he has photographed over the years including Count Basie, Peggy Lee and Chet Baker. Deshler’s passion for photography led him to study at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design where he earned a degree, followed by a 30-year career as a commercial photographer. His clients have included Intel, Nokia, Southern Comfort, The Oregon Symphony, Kaiser, Sony and Nike. His work has won awards in both Oregon and New York advertising and design shows.
With his two sons grown, Deshler has the time to court his first love, music. He has played trumpet with Buddy Guy and Steamboat Willie and performed in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago and Portland. He plays pop to rhythm and blues, but jazz is his ultimate creative expression. Unlike the constraints of classical music, jazz thrives on spontaneity and improvisation. Jazz mirrors life, he said, but life doesn’t come with sheet music.
“We create our song off the cuff. The more we embrace spontaneity, the more joyful our life becomes,” Deshler said.
He’s played electronic but prefers acoustic because it’s more “organic, tactile and closer to elemental vibrations.” This preference is reflected in his move from Los Angeles to his Marquam home, shared with his St. Bernard, Theo, and three “supermodel hens.”
Deshler and Friends perform Saturday evenings at the Howard Hinsdale Cellars and Bistro in Silverton.
Joel Autry, partner in the bistro, has know Jon for more than 20 years.
“Jon is a nurturing, loyal friend who is always thinking of how to promote and help his friends and to connect people,” Autry said.
Watching Deshler perform is seeing his philosophy in action. There is his easy, affable banter with patrons who he gladly takes requests from, his tight collaboration with his fellow musicians and the spontaneity, the joyous improvisation and his genuine love of jazz.
Whether photographing cheetahs, playing his horn or reveling in Oregon’s natural beauty, Deshler is a man in his element: communicating, cultivating and creating with joy and passion.