Arts & Culture

Atascadero photographer brings the world to the Central Coast

Cheryl Strahl's work includes photographs of a mother polar bear and her cubs near Kaktovik, Alaska,
Cheryl Strahl's work includes photographs of a mother polar bear and her cubs near Kaktovik, Alaska,

There’s a certain charm to old family vacation photographs, faded and cropped.

But Cheryl Strahl’s photos go beyond that — they’re mesmerizing. The Atascadero photographer’s images freeze moments in time from across the world.

Strahl’s travel photography focuses on the place, the people, and even the animals that are so different from those on the Central Coast. On a recent trip to the Arctic Circle in Alaska, Strahl happily spent four days photographing polar bears from a small boat.

“We spent the first part of the trip in Kaktovik, a small, isolated Inupiat Eskimo village on the north slope of Alaska, traveling there via bush plane from Fairbanks,” she said.

“For four days, we photographed polar bears on land and in water from a small boat operated by a local guide. We saw cubs frolicking in the frigid water, mother bears interacting with their cubs, and bears eating scraps of whale meat, blubber and skin from a recent bowhead whale hunt that was permitted for the village — what an amazing experience.”

Strahl, who retired in 2008 as a software engineer and project manager, now focuses on her fine art photography.

Construction of her images begins long before she presses the camera’s shutter button. She looks for a way to connect to her environment whether that's through conversation, observing local customs or a smile.

“Becoming aware of my surroundings is so important to me; I strive to capture images that speak of the place that I experienced, and show the emotion that I felt when I experienced it.”

While most tourists may see a scene as one image, Strahl considers all of the surrounding details.

“I tend to look around to feel the essence of that place — what it is that draws me into this scene, making it a delightful, visual experience,” she said. “It may be light playing on a landscape, a local resident involved in his or her culture, lines, shapes, doorways, windows and color.”

Though Strahl travels the world, she said she always looks forward to her return to the Central Coast. “The Central Coast is a travel destination in itself and I never tire of the opportunities to capture amazing images right in my own backyard.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two columns featuring local photographers who share their global adventures.


‘The Beauty of Travel,’ photographs by Cheryl Strahl

Where: The Photo Shop, 1027 Marsh St., SLO

When: Through Nov. 14; a reception during Art After Dark will be held on Nov. 6 from 6-8 p.m.