One of the greatest nature photographers, in my opinion, was Ronnie Gaubert. For years I looked at the images in his online gallery and marveled at their beauty, their naturalness, their ability to transport the viewer to the cypress swamps of Louisiana that Ronnie loved and to the quiet, hidden places he frequented in search of birds, butterflies, wildflowers, and tiny bugs most eyes never noticed.
“If only I could meet him,” I thought. “I bet he could teach me some valuable lessons.”
It was wishful thinking but not out of the realm of possibility because Ronnie lived within a little over an hour’s drive from where I lived. I emailed him several times and was privileged to receive replies but an actual visit didn’t happen. A couple of years slipped by and I lost touch with him. Then, for some reason, his name came back to mind and I revisited his gallery, emailed him again, and this time asked boldly about the chances for a meeting with him. “I’d be willing to pay you for your time!” I added.
I was astonished at his reply. “I have never charged anyone for advice and that won’t change. Don’t worry about time as I would be willing to meet with you as long as you want. I have nothing but free time. I have to let you know that I was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) last October. I have lost 90% of the strength in my right arm, and I’m also unable to speak. I have a portable device that speaks what I type. At home I type on my computer and my family just reads it. Please don’t think you coming over is somehow difficult for me. I still communicate, just a little slower.”
The generosity of his offer was overwhelming, and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet with such a fine individual. To make a long story short, I met with Ronnie several times, each time inspired by the gentle giant of a man who shared his wealth of knowledge with such joy and gusto, in spite of his grave illness.
“I buy books about photography, but I never read them,” he typed. “Look at the pictures, lots of pictures. They’ll teach you more than the words will.”
“Get up early, really early. That’s when the light’s best. Most people are sleeping when the best shots are waiting to be taken.”
“Getting a perfect shot right out of the camera seldom happens. I’m not a purist. I know that being a good processor is as important as being a good photographer. It’s a skill that needs to be learned.”
Many such tidbits of wisdom he shared with me, but one stands out in my memory more vividly than the others. When I asked him, “Ronnie, why do your pictures look so different from everybody else’s? There’s something about them I just can’t define. What is it?
This time he didn’t type the answer. He simply pointed his index finger to heaven and my eyes glazed over with tears as I understood what he meant. “It’s a gift. A gift from God.” Ronnie knew it, and I knew only a humble man would acknowledge that.
I last saw Ronnie in November of 2010 when he was preparing prints to donate to the medical facility in Houston where he was receiving treatment for his disease. I was blessed to see them all—glorious images that few photographers can ever dream of capturing. It was Ronnie’s way of sharing his gift with people who were suffering and needed to lose themselves in beauty for a while.
A few days ago, Ronnie’s name kept coming into my mind. I’d emailed him several times without any response. I knew the difficulty he’d been having in November with weakness in his hands and arms so I guessed that typing was no longer an option for communication. I logged onto his online gallery for the hundredth time and gasped out loud when I read the following words in the comment section: “May he rest in peace.”
It couldn’t be! Surely I would have heard. But a little research confirmed the single sentence I’d just read. Ronald Paul Gaubert died at his home on May 3, 2011. He was 59. Only slight mention was made in his obituary of his association with photography and I wouldn’t be surprised that was at his request. He had told me that he didn’t like when people said he was the best photographer they’d met. There were so many others in his estimation that surpassed his skills. Say what he might, in my heart, Ronnie was the best. And I know why. His wordless testimony—that index finger pointing heavenward—confirmed it. His inspiration was divine and it showed in everything he did.
May he rest in peace. May his eyes behold the fullness of beauty in heaven foreshadowed by the diminished beauty of earth which he appreciated and shared so generously with his fellow men.