For this edition of our Ask a Local series, we’re pleased to introduce Keoki Flagg, an award winning, internationally published fine art photographer who calls Lake Tahoe home. One of the premier nature, outdoor sports and adventure photographers, Keoki has worked all over the world creating images for many Fortune 500 corporations, including Disney and VISA, the California and New Zealand Tourism Boards, the Discovery Channel, ESPN and Warren Miller Films, and articles and covers for Audubon, National Geographic Adventure, Men’s Journal, Outside, and Ski & Skiing. He is also a gallery owner, having established Gallery Keoki, which originally specialized in the modern masters, Picasso, Chagall, Calder, and other acclaimed international artists working in a wide range of media. The gallery now focuses exclusively on Keoki’s work and he remains its Managing Partner and the resident artist.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Keoki spent parts of his childhood living in Europe and globe-trotting with his family. This embedded in him a multicultural orientation and a love of travel and adventure. So it’s no surprise that he trained and served as the team photographer for the PUSH South Pole adventure, which chronicled the epic saga of Grant Korgan, the first adaptive athlete to ski to the South Pole.
With such adventures and travel under his belt, we wanted to know more about why he calls Tahoe home – and what he loves about living here.
What brought you to Tahoe? It was kind of by accident. I was halfway through four years of travel and had to come back for my sister’s wedding. At the time my parents were living in Incline Village, and I had never been there before. I ended up spending time here, skiing different resorts, ultimately getting a job taking photos at a ski resort. I took another two year trip and came back to Lake Tahoe, and have been here since. There is so much here that I love – the mountains, seasons, and easy access to other destinations. They are all things that I did not have access to growing up in Hawaii. I have traveled extensively, and Lake Tahoe is ideal as a home base. It’s a great place to come home to, as well as a practical place to live, as I can pretty much get anywhere from here.
The change component is key for me as an artist. Unless you come from a place where there is no change – like Hawaii – you don’t recognize how important seasonality and change is to your art and evolution as an artist.
Skier or snowboarder? I ski, snowboard and even telemark ski a little. I love all ways of riding. Because I’m a photographer, I can’t do what I do if I wasn’t a skier. Over the years I’ve become looser in my photographic approach, something I can do because of my comfort on skis. Skis give me flexibility, and since I’ve carried my equipment on my back for 20 years, it’s also given me strength, both of which allow me to shoot in a way that allows me to translate motion differently. It’s opened up a whole new palette. I’m now liberated to work with skiers and snowboarders differently, experimenting and challenging my work. This growth is a direct result of my confidence as a skier.
Describe your ideal winter’s day. There are so few great shooting days during a season, and you have to be so organized for a compressed weather window, that for me the best days are usually those storm days where the light isn’t great. This means I’m with friends that day, not working. It allows me a unique way to interact with others without my camera, and reminds me to enjoy the day for what it is.
Having grown up in Hawaii the idea of snowfall is so foreign to me. I’ve never lost the sense of wonder of the snow, especially early season. So storm days are special. The simplicity of snowflakes, the mysticism of the universe in the little details. It’s magical. California has a deep snow palette that ranges from powder to wind buff to corn. This transformative power creates an urgency to pay attention to the snow, to be present and marvel at its evolution.
What’s one thing a visitor can’t miss? Visit the east shore of Lake Tahoe. It doesn’t matter what season. I’ve seen a lot of beaches in my travels, and I think Lake Tahoe’s east shore has the most beautiful water and sand in the world. In the same vein, if you can spend time on Lake Tahoe in the winter, it gives you a totally different perspective of the mountains and the lake.