The Light Chaser: 'I can't not do it; it's a sickness'

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- The eye doctor will tell you to look at a chart on the wall and ask, What do you see?

Deb Primus tells you to look at the world and asks the same question.

She's been a photographer since about age 7 and the passion burns hotter now than ever. She owes her interest to her granddad, who left her a nifty box camera, a work of art from back when cameras were still made of hardwood.

And she's grateful for the guidance she got from her dad.

"One thing he used to tell me when I was a kid was, 'Don't take a picture that doesn't have a person in it.'"

A quick check of her website and you're immediately grateful she ignored dad's advice.

"I like to shoot bicyclists and people walking, she says, standing on a crowded sidewalk in Hyde Park. "Lots of bicyclers come through here, so that's fun."

Earlier, on a trek through spectacular Kathryn Albertson Park, we encounter the Bellomy family--Tom and Stasi.

They're struggling to round up the kids, Emma and Isaac, and the family dog for a group portrait. Unprompted, Primus steps in and takes charge. You can read the gratitude on Tom's face.

Primus looks to the youngest member of the clan, Isaac, who's barely more than 2.

"And what's your name? Come in right between mom and dad? There you go. That's good."

Primus explains that her experience as a studio photographer comes in handy. By now, even the dog is on board.

Primus peers into the viewfinder and takes a moment to assess.

"OK, everybody ready?"

Click. Well, more of a synchronized whir.

A moment later, Isaac wanders over and wants a look. He seems fascinated by the big black Canon.

Primus hands him the camera and helps him compose a shot of mom and dad. Hours later, she's still smiling at the moment they shared.

"When I handed him the camera," she says with glowing satisfaction over a chai latte, "he just held it with those little tiny hands and he was so excited."

After all these years, chasing after kids and dogs is never a problem. It's chasing the light that consumes photographers like Primus.

But not only chasing it. Respecting it. Revering it.

I show her a photo she took of Albertson Park from some October gone by--a feast of reeds and riotous color.

She pauses for a moment and then offers, "The light was getting better and better and better. When I looked back, that was when the light was at its peak."

Given that kind of obsessive concentration, it's easy to see why, after an hour of walking, she's aching for the shadows to deepen.

Because she lives and dies by the quicksilver nature of time.

"The best hour," she explains, "is always the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, which is a bit more difficult when you're in the hills."

Primus is partial to reflections, and to sunsets. That is, once this Minnesota girl could find them.

"I searched for the longest time to find the right place for a sunset. I kept thinking I'm going to go up this hill and I'm going to see it." And then, "because I grew up in flatland, it was new to me to have to search and find a sunset."

What she isn't having trouble finding is popularity. She operates a small gallery inside the Green Chutes Artist Coop. It's here she is experimenting with metal plate photography--both playful and durable.

Kind of like the artist herself.

"People have asked me, 'Why do you do what you do?' And I say, because I can't not do it. I can't not do it."

So that's Deb Primus: raging against the dying of the light and pulling the rest of the world along with her.