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Photo of a Flower by artist Aleli Gonzalez Kelton

Meet the Artist: Aleli Gonzalez Kelton

My name is Aleli Gonzalez Kelton. I grew up in Burbank and attended John Burroughs High School, benefiting from the excellent photography program at JBHS in addition to participating in the Regional Occupational program offered for the field photography.

The program offered many opportunities, and it wasn’t long before I decided that photography would be my career.

I developed an award-winning portfolio, shooting mostly with a 4×5 camera that was available for check out from JBHS, because I did not yet own a 35mm camera.

My photographic awards included, Silver and Gold medals from the Los Angeles County fair, First Place in the Los Angeles Focus Competition, and most importantly an honorable mention for my portfolio in the National Scholastic competition in 1977. I was also named the 1976 and 1977 Photographer of the Year at JBHS.

I was awarded a $25,000 scholarship from Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, by the then President of Art Center, Ray La Marca, who was one of our judges for our annual Camera Work Show at JBHS.

I was not able to use this scholarship, because my parents did not believe I could actually make a living with photography as my career.

Boy, did I prove them wrong!  I owe so much to my high school photography teacher, Mr. Tim Brehm, who mentored me, and recognized my talent early on. He persuaded me into believing I could make a living in photography.

Tim Brehm was a graduate of Art Center College of Design and worked for years as a commercial photographer, before deciding that if he wanted to stay married, he needed more of a 9-5 career. Luckily for me, he went into teaching, and developed the award-winning, nationally recognized photography program.

I was hired by the Rockwell International Rocketdyne Division in Canoga Park in 1982.  It was an entry level position as a Custom Color Printer, working in a secure dark room, printing classified work that could not be sent out to our normal vender. My hands-on experience in the John Burroughs High School darkroom qualified me this position, as I had plenty of experience producing both B&W and color prints.

I decided that I would work my way up to the position of staff photographer.  In a few short years, I was able to do just that.

In 1985, I became a staff photographer, and was transferred to the Santa Susana Field Laboratories in Chatsworth. This is where Rocketdyne test fires the liquid fueled rocket engines that they manufacture.  I began learning High Speed Motion Picture Instrumentation.

My responsibilities included providing still images, and high speed motion picture documentation of the rocket engine tests for many programs, including the Space Shuttle main engines, and the Atlas, Delta and Thor missiles. This was so exciting, and although we worked crazy hours supporting two full time engineering shifts, I loved it.

I received numerous awards for my photographic images and services, and worked all over the United States providing high-speed motion picture services to our customers and other divisions of the corporation.

After photographing barely controlled explosions (rocket engine tests) for a decade at Rocketdyne, I was promoted to the Rockwell Science Center (RSC), which was the R&D division for Rockwell, to head up the photography department.

At this time, the emerging digital technology was revolutionizing the fields of photography and graphics.  I modernized the photographic and presentation services offered by our department.

I began taking courses at night at the Art Center College of Design, learning Photoshop, starting with revision number 0.5.  I later transferred to the UCLA Extension Program, and studied graphics and multimedia.

I was responsible for all multimedia support for corporate executive presentations and briefings at RSC and  worked with scientists to help them better document some of their experimental results. I provided graphic design for company brochures, marketing campaigns and trade shows. I worked closely with the Public Relations department, to facilitate and document media releases and technical tours.

This was an exciting time, and I loved my job! At times I found it hard to believe they were paying me to do what I love, photography!

In 2000, I retired from the Science Center to become a stay-at-home mom, and moved to Oakhurst to start a business with my husband providing excavation services for the mountain community.

I was very busy with these activities for years, all the while missing my photography.

I jumped back in to my hobby ten years ago, and will never put my camera down again. I love photography and living in the mountains, surrounded by all this beauty is just paradise.

Now, I spend my days capturing images that make me smile; flowers, scenics, and wildlife. I have been thinking for a while that I would love to participate in experience of Sierra Art Trails, and share some of my favorite work.

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