If you took Yoda (non-combative, original trilogy version), Obi-Wan (mostly Alec Guinness’s version) and Gandalf the Grey (pre-White) and mashed them together, you’d get Grant Kalivoda.
Grant wasn’t an awards-amassing ivory tower type, nor was he a lofty-minded artist, nor was he a Jedi (I think). But he was a whiz at camera, darkroom and printing technology who dreamed of organizing Segway tours of his beloved Santa Fe and who had a hearty appetite for New Mexican food and good conversation. He was the “New Mexico hippie [who] put a medium-format film SLR camera into my hands and told me to have fun” who is mentioned in my biography on this blog.
Grant passed away earlier this week.
I’ve mentioned Grant before on this blog, but only once, apparently. Which is absurd now that I think about the extraordinary impact Grant had on my life. So, I now belatedly attempt to correct this oversight.
Rewind to 2006. I had applied for several different summer jobs at Philmont Scout Ranch in northeastern New Mexico and, on a whim, included a CD of pretty craptastic photos I’d taken on my first digital camera, a Canon point-and-shoot. For whatever reason, Philmont offered me a job as a photographer. I accepted, even though I knew nothing about photography and was terrified of learning how to use real cameras and the darkroom.
Enter Grant. Grant, a photo and printing specialist out of Santa Fe, had for years been training Philmont photographers how to use the gigantic Pentax 6×7 cameras, how to develop C-41 film with the Jobo processor, how to use the enlargers and the Kreonite print processor for individual prints and how to use the Noritsu print processors for prints en masse. As the only photographer on staff who’d never manually exposed or developed her own film before, I was at a distinct disadvantage, but Grant treated me just as if I were any of the other photographers. All I needed was a bit more mentorship, which he provided.
Under Grant’s instruction, I didn’t botch up my first-ever roll of film (which I still have), nor any roll of film I shot that summer. I fell in love with film, hard. Being in complete control over every step of the process never ceased to awe me, and I was hooked. I happily lugged the heavy Pentax gear up and down mountains, relished the thudding sound of the heavy shutter and voluntarily spent many late nights developing film and printing.
This said, I was still an awful photographer. I’m not sure that the ranch was able to use most of the pictures I produced for marketing purchases that first summer. But I sure did have fun.
In fact, I had so much fun that when I went to Mizzou that fall, I slammed the brakes on my aspirations of becoming a reporter, and instead worked my tail off to become a photojournalist.
And now here I am.
I came back to Philmont for two more summers: In 2007, I was one of the only returning photographers from 2006 to help transition the department from film to digital, and in 2008, I headed the ranch’s weekly staff newsletter. Grant provided training during both those summers, albeit at a diminished frequency compared to 2006. Still, I loved seeing my old friend whenever he made the drive from Santa Fe, and was greatly reassured that he was only a phone call away.
When Jeff and I made Santa Fe our destination for our 2010 spring break road trip, I made sure we saw Grant. It only made sense to introduce two of the most important people in my life to each other, and of course it was great to see Grant again. We met up for green chile burgers at the now-defunct Bobcat Bite and ended the night at Grant’s house, where we ate ice cream and played dominoes.
After that trip, my contact with Grant was limited to a few emails here and there. I’d occasionally catch a recurring mountain fever, but finances and time kept me from making another trip to my beloved Sangre de Cristo mountains. Then, last spring, a friend contacted me with news that Grant had Parkinson’s and arthritis and wasn’t doing too well.
That changed everything.
Three months after I emailed Grant to check up on him and one month after he replied, I was on a plane to New Mexico. I stayed three days in the Land of Enchantment; the only times I wasn’t with Grant and his girlfriend Charlotte were when I took a quick driving tour of Santa Fe and made a half-day trip up to Philmont. But we spent two days eating lots of good food, taking driving tours, sharing old memories and puttering around their home on the outskirts of Santa Fe. Usually when I make trips, I produce lists of things to do and eat, and every day is planned out to the max. But this trip, I had no agenda except to be with Grant and Charlotte. I don’t think Grant ever believed me on that — several times, he tried to guess why I really came from Pennsylvania to New Mexico — but my earlier revelation that Grant might not be immortal made me realize I wanted to share more time with him.
Earlier this month, I got mountain fever again and started babbling to Jeff about booking another trip to Santa Fe. This trip, I’d want to make a few hikes, but seeing Grant and Charlotte was definitely at the top of my list, too. Unfortunately, a few hours after I got off a 12-hour overnight shift today, I received word that Grant wasn’t immortal after all.
Lessons I learned from Grant Kalivoda, many of which he may not have known he taught me:
- Slow down. (Still learning this one.)
- Knowing more than others doesn’t necessarily make you better, and often it just makes you lazy.
- Never stop tinkering. Never stop learning. Never stop wondering. And have fun in the meantime.
- You’ll enjoy things a lot more if you slow down and appreciate them. Unless it’s ice cream we’re talking about.
- It ain’t broke until fixing it just makes it worse.
- Anything can be repurposed.
- Taking the time to enjoy a meal (slowly) with friends, sans phones and other distractions, is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
The thing is, I’m just one of countless people who learned from Grant and became a better person for it. I have no clue how many summers he helped train Philmont’s photo department, and he also had a sizable presence in the Santa Fe community. The man’s influence was and is far-reaching. He helped me realize where I wanted to take my career, and I’m positive I’m not the only one who so benefited from his instruction, patience and kindness.
The Philmont and Santa Fe communities owe much to Grant Kalivoda, whether or not they realize it. For myself, I’m learning that there’s never enough time in the world to spend with those who matter most to you, but I’m no less grateful for the time that we did share.
Rest in peace, Grant. You are dearly missed.