I was born to European refugee parents in Cape Town, South Africa, and grew up in the midst of immense natural beauty. I attended a boys-only school, the South African College (est. 1829), where the students wore uniforms, had a classical European-style education, played rugby and cricket, and learned marksmanship and discipline in the cadet corps. My mother gave me her unused Voigtlander bellows camera (f7.7!) and I learned the magic of developing film and making prints among the 19th century glass plate images of school sports teams in the dusty school basement darkroom.
After high school I read philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Cape Town, and took a further degree in political theory and government at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. For the next three years I taught at the University of South Africa, Pretoria. Toward the end of that time I was awarded a Fulbright-Hayes Grant to study at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Denver, Colorado, and from there went on to teach at the Santa Barbara and Davis campuses of the University of California, before embarking on a career in business.
I had always maintained a strong interest in the humanities and the arts, and finally, in 1989, following a lifelong dream, I made a commitment to full-time work in photography and writing. Much of my concentration has been on publication and teaching, though my photography has also been shown in venues such as the Mills College Art Gallery, Oakland, the Robert Koch and Vision Galleries, San Francisco, the Judah L. Magnes Museum, Berkeley, the March of the Living Foundation, New York, the Royal Photographic Society/British National Centre of Photography, Bath, England, Pacific University, the University of California at Berkeley, the Fresno Art Museum, and as an invited artist at the Pingyao International Photography Festival in China. Some of my work is in the permanent collections of the Bancroft Library at UC-Berkeley, the Luciano Pavarotti Foundation, Italy, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C. Especially as an autodidact, I enjoyed teaching photography at the Center for Photographic Art, Carmel, Golden Gate University, the Richmond Art Center, the Friends of Photography/Ansel Adams Center, the San Francisco Art Institute, and two Bay Area community colleges, Laney and Merritt.
A number of my images and dozens of my articles have appeared in The Photographic Journal, Contemporary Photography, Connections, Image Magazine, The Monthly, The Sun, Photo Metro, LensWork, SouthWestArt, Artweek, History of Photography, Photo Life, Indian Photography and Cinematography, Works & Conversations, and The New York Times.
In the early 1960s I had seen the Family of Man exhibition in Johannesburg, and was especially intrigued by Wynn Bullock's photograph "Child in Forest." Thirty years later, the Aperture Foundation, New York, commissioned me to write the text for Wynn Bullock: The Enchanted Landscape, Photographs 1940-1975. The cover image is "Child in Forest."
Bringing together the strands of my life as a son of the refugee and Holocaust survivor generation, a political scientist, writer and photographer, my next book was Liberating The Ghosts: Photographs And Text From The March Of The Living, based on an international pilgrimage of young people to the sites of the Holocaust in Poland. Sponsored by the Judah L. Magnes Museum, the exhibition travelled in the United States and abroad. The book, published in 1996 by LensWork Publishing, subsequently won “Best Book for Young Adults” awards from the American Library Association and the New York Public Library. 2011 saw the publication of my book Light and Recovery: Vaulting the Walls, an account of how concentration on photography helped me recover from major open-heart surgery.
In the late 1980s and the early 1990s I was awarded Distinctions from the India International Photographic Council, New Delhi, and the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, which elected me a Fellow (FRPS) for a portfolio of my work as Chief Photographer of the Fire Art Project, an all-media exhibition based on the experience of the catastrophic 1991 fire in the Berkeley-Oakland hills.
Over the years I’ve greatly enjoyed being challenged by different styles and approaches to photography, embracing black and white documentary and fine art images as well as color work that varies greatly from representation to surrealism. I am especially grateful for the journey from basement darkroom to my expansive digital lightroom overlooking San Francisco Bay.
Finally, my interest in India is the result of my marriage to Dr. Karine Schomer, a former professor of South Asian Studies at Berkeley. Together we have led cultural and photographic tours to India for several companies including InnerAsia Expeditions (now Geographic Expeditions) and National Geographic Expeditions.
Raphael Shevelev is a California based fine art photographer, digital artist and writer on photography and the creative process. He is known for the wide and experimental range of his art, and an aesthetic that emphasizes strong design, metaphor and story. His photographic images can be seen and purchased at www.raphaelshevelev.com/galleries.