In essence, Cheyenne L. Rouse has had two distinct careers in photography. Formerly a very successful stock and advertising photographer, her adventure sports, outdoor recreation and landscape images have appeared in magazines such as Sunset, Backroads Tours, Outdoor Photographer, Outside, Outdoors and many others. Today, after a hiatus from the industry, she has returned to professional photography — this time as a fine art photographer dedicated to capturing the “the legend, the lore and the landscapes of the Southwest.” She also has a fresh, new way of marketing her work.
Rouse is primarily a self-educated photographer, with the exception of a tenth grade photography course in the 1970s. She was fascinated by the medium but put her passion for photography on the back burner. “After high school, I went right to work,” Rouse explains. Although her parents would have paid for her college education after the first year, she decided to go out and make money instead. Rouse and her twin sister began a business designing high-end children’s clothes in Miami. “Photography was the furthest thing from my mind,” she says.
In 1989, Rouse had the opportunity to take a trip out west. “Friends of mine were on a road trip and suggested that I could meet them somewhere that summer,” she remembers. She flew to and traveled through New Mexico and Utah. “Never in my life had I seen the things that we saw — the magic of New Mexico, the red rocks of southern Utah, the mountains of northern Utah. There was a heavy spirituality in those areas.”
She didn’t shoot pictures on that road trip and doesn’t even recall bringing a camera. However, she went back to Miami and began making plans to move. “My sister was about to have the second of three children, and we had this successful business,” says Rouse. “Our family had invested a lot of money in our business, and she said I couldn’t leave until we paid it back.” At the same time, Rouse wanted to develop a separate identity from her twin sister. “There was a lot wrapped up in that whole journey,” she recalls.
A friend in San Diego with a spare room encouraged Rouse to move in. So she walked out on a lease in Miami, sold most of her belongings, stuffed everything in her Acura Integra and drove to California. She acknowledges that there was some ill will from her family when she left, but today, most of that is water under the bridge. Rouse’s grandmother was also an artist, and before her passing eight years ago, she said, “Honey, I knew why you did what you had to do — I’m proud of you.”
Once in San Diego, she got a job as a waitress, and on her days off, she traveled around the Southwest, camped and shot photos. She was greatly influenced by the highly successful adventure/landscape photographer Galen Rowell (who perished in a plane crash in 2002). “I had seen him on TV and heard him speak before leaving Miami, and knew that he was the example I wanted to follow,” she says. “It was like I was divinely led.”
Rouse also became fascinated with Native American culture. At age 29, she went back to school and got a degree in American Indian studies, primarily to learn about the ceremonies and ruins she was photographing. “I’ve always heard from mentors that if you study what you’re photographing, you can get more meaningful images,” she states.
Since Galen Rowell made part of his living shooting stock, she followed his example and learned about the business of stock photography, working for a year as a file manager at PhotoPhile, a stock agency in San Diego. This experience altered her focus somewhat, and she began to photograph people involved in adventure sports or as part of a landscape. “What was selling was photos with people,” she remarks. “Things started to hum along when I added people to my images.” Not being from an adventure sports background, Rouse worked very hard at it. However, her marketing decision paid off. At one point, her work was represented by 10 stock agencies around the world. Her images graced the pages of numerous magazines, guidebooks on the Southwest and advertising campaigns.
But by 2003, Rouse burned out, so she put her camera down and took a long hiatus from the photo business. “I thought I was done,” she remembers. This was also a time when many of the larger stock agencies were acquiring smaller ones, and many small agencies went out of business altogether. During this time, she became certified in physical fitness and started a personal training business in Park City, Utah. She also briefly tried her hand at real estate (“For about five minutes,” she laughs).
In 2008, she returned to photography and reconnected with many of her previous clients and professional contacts, including Tamron, a lens company that is one of her sponsors. What made her come back to photography? “It was HDR (high dynamic range post-processing) that inspired me,” she asserts. When she bought a new digital camera in 2008, friends asked her if she had tried HDR. “I had no idea what they were talking about, but they told me that I could download free HDR trial software from Photomatix.”
She learned how to shoot HDR, in which several exposures are combined into one, and took her new camera on a road trip to Moab, Utah. “That’s when I found the big red truck,” she says, describing a rusted old truck that was used to advertise a consignment store in downtown Moab. The truck was one of her first HDR subjects, and it became the symbol of her new style. “That’s how I got back into this business — that truck changed my life.”
More of this article can be read in the Fall 2013 issue.