‘Artistry In Perspective’: Douglas Grad Returns To Valley To Establish Photo Firm

by Joey Crandall, joey@carsonvalleytimes.com Photos by Tommy Walter, Exploring New Avenues

GARDNERVILLE, Nev. — Perspective, it would seem, has as much to do with timing as it does positioning.
If you grew up in Carson Valley, you know this part of the script already.
You graduate from high school and you’re dying to see what’s on the other side of those mountains for yourself.

So you go and see what you can see.
From there, the story arcs tend to scatter all directions. But this place — the one where the stories begin – it sticks with us, doesn’t it?

And when you return, for better or worse, things just look different than you remember.



Carson Valley, from Kingsbury Grade
Carson Valley, from Kingsbury Grade

Take, for example, Tommy Walter, who recently returned to Carson Valley with his girlfriend, Liana Esmaili, to establish a unique photography firm.

“I guess it’s just the way you see things,” said Walter, a 2006 graduate of Douglas High School. “Before I even had a camera, I remember driving around and looking at things a certain way – saying in my head, that’d be a cool photo.

“I come from a family of photographers. I have a great uncle, Dave Olmstead, who studied by the side of Ansel Adams for a time. He (Olmstead) was heavily involved in black and white photography. Other members of my family were photographers too.

“As cheesy as it sounds, I just inherited the vision.”

Walter attended Western Nevada College for two years and received a degree in graphic communications.

“One of my good friends I graduated high school with suggested we get out of town for a little and see what else is out there,” Walter said. “His grandpa owned a condo in Long Beach that was empty at the time.

“He said he would charge us cheap rent if we wanted to make the big move out to the city. After living in Gardnerville for 19 years, it seemed like the best idea ever, so in 2007 we hit the road.

“What’s funny is I wasn’t really into photography during the time I moved out to LA. I’d taken dark room photography all throughout high school with Mrs. Kaluza so I had three years of traditional photography and another two years of digital photography under my belt, but it just wasn’t what I was interested in just then.

“I was also always into music production, so eventually I sold all of my photography equipment to build my music studio up.”

Walter had a job lined up when he arrived in Long Beach, transferring from the Carson City Costco to another Costco in Signal Hill.

He worked and lived in Southern California for four years, eventually getting his own place in Long Beach.

Walter captured this shot at The Pike in downtown Long Beach. He received a first place award from the city for the shot.
Walter captured this shot at The Pike in downtown Long Beach. He received a first place award from the city for the shot.

“Just being from a small town, I definitely was in awe down there,” he said. “There was always so much going on and the pace of life was very different.

“I always wanted to stay in Long Beach, the city was too much and everywhere else was too expensive. Long Beach has great areas, and also its fair share of bad areas,” Walter said with a laugh. “I remember the very first day of work, I went to walk out to my truck to go somewhere for lunch and it had been broken into.

“As I was filing my police report, the cop smiled at me and said, ‘Welcome to Long Beach.'”
Along the way, he connected with Esmaili, a native of the the Los Angeles area who had spent some time living in Carson Valley years prior. They’d first met at Western Nevada College, both studying graphic communications.

Liana Esmaili in Manhattan Beach
Liana Esmaili in Manhattan Beach

“The thing I love about her is that she’s creative in different ways than I am,” Walter said. “She love to paint and create things from scratch. She had a cheap little Canon Rebel she would let me borrow here and there.

“I didn’t realize until then just how much I’d missed shooting.”

“I started really getting back into photography by just taking the camera with me every day and exploring areas around the city or beaches that I had never seen before, really trying to capture a moment … any moment.

Abandoned oil rig at The Port of Long Beach

“I started my Instagram account and really tried to aim for every photo to have a certain look. It became very addicting.

He and Esmaili started something of an adventure blog/portfolio, calling it Exploring New Avenues. They eventually grew it into a company, specializing in product, lifestyle, street, landscape, architectural and wedding photography.

“With landscape, it’s really about taking the time to explore,” Walter said. “That’s how the name came about. We have our cameras wherever we go and try to capture what we see to the best of our ability.”

With that exploration comes a fair amount of adventure. And a lot of waiting.

“I really take a storytelling approach with each shoot,” Walter said. “I’ll wait and wait – hours sometimes – until the sun is just right.”

He recalled climbing high-rise corporate buildings in Los Angeles with friends, trying to find new angles.
“I suppose you could call what we were doing illegal,’” Walter said with a laugh. “When we (got caught), they saw that we were harmless and let us off the hook.

“One time, we got up on top of a 42-story building where the view was the best I’ve ever seen of Los Angeles — even better than the movies. We were literally looking down on helicopters flying through the city … just to put in perspective on how high we were.

“We were up there for a good two hours capturing all kinds of long-exposures.”

He and Esmaili set up a full-fledged web site for their work and both invested in all the gear they needed for their endeavor.

The setting, though. Something just seemed off about the setting.

“We both kind of had an anxiety in the city,” Walter said. “The traffic was getting to us. At certain times, everything just seemed too hectic. You work so hard there for so little.

“Don’t get me wrong, we met some incredibly talented and important people. We loved – still love – Los Angeles. It’s just a place we no longer want to live our lives. Every time we would come back to Carson Valley to visit friends and family, it would really make us want to stay, for me especially,” Walter said.

Returning home, they found a new appreciation for Carson Valley and the region.

“It’s little things you don’t notice when you grow up in one area for so long. Here in Carson Valley and the surrounding areas, we live first and work second. It LA it was more you work first in order to live.

“That’s the major difference and ultimately what made us come back.”

They’ve found backdrops that the brands they were working for loved.

Their work has been featured in a number of product catalogues, such as The Hundreds. They’ve also gained attention on a number of high-profile Instagram accounts like Art of VisualsEarth Focus and Road Trippers .

“I like to crop things a certain way,” Walter said. “I’ll take a picture which would be normal and then find a way to crop it where it is abnormal.

“There is a lot of artistry in perspective. I guess it just comes down to the way you see things.”

For more information on Exploring New Avenues, visit www.exploringnewavenues.com or check out their Instagram account.

Cave Rock, South Lake Tahoe


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