Art & Clarity celebrates its 25th year of photographing Napa Valley

Art & Clarity celebrates its 25th year of photographing Napa Valley

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Art & Clarity, the Napa-based photography and videography team of Lowell Downey and Janna Waldinger, have spent the past 28 years showcasing individuals, businesses, and nonprofits from the Valley and beyond.

This year, Downey and Waldinger are marking their 25-year anniversary of the business’s move to Napa from San Francisco.

Many years later, today, Art & Clarity remains in the same spot as when it opened in 1994, the historical Goodman House on Division Street.

Waldinger said the team inspires folks to “find fabulous in Napa” and “capture it photographically so they can share it wildly.”

Downey and Waldinger said they photograph and create videos throughout the Valley, the Bay Area, and beyond.

They often embark on exciting journeys, including photographing different cultures from the vantage point of a hot-air balloon and shooting documentary films in Israel.

The two met almost 30 years ago in San Francisco at the Hatley Martin Art Gallery, where Waldinger was then an associate director.

Later, Downey and Waldinger became the directors of a San Francisco arts nonprofit organization, the Institute for Living Arts.

Together, they produced art performances, created art exhibitions, and took the first ecological art exhibition from the United States to the Czech Republic shortly after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Downey and Waldinger were married for 24 years.

When they settled into the Valley, both took on new roles.

In 1999, Downey joined the board of the Institute for Conservation, Advocacy, Research and Education (ICARE), a nonprofit that protects Napa County watersheds and the Napa River.

By 1998, Waldinger was elected to trustee for Area 2 for the Napa County Board of Education. She has held the position for 22 years.

In 2019, Waldinger became the student services manager for If Given a Chance.

This Napa-based program provides mentoring and financial assistance to vulnerable Napa County high school students who have overcome challenges and are seeking to attend college or complete vocational training.

By spring 2019, Downey became an adjunct professor of photography at Napa Valley College.

Downey and Waldinger have long photographed the covers of Napa Valley Life Magazine, a local lifestyle magazine.

In 2003, they did a collaborative commission for the Napa Valley Museum to photograph the construction and variety of wine caves for an exhibit titled “Underground.”

With every new venture, Downey and Waldinger said they have gained a greater experience and understanding of the people and way of life in Napa Valley.

“We have a deep respect and love for our community. Being of service is how we support a healthy community,” said Waldinger.

The fun of an expeditionIn 2014, Downey and Waldinger began offering “Art & Clarity Adventures,” customized photography classes in Napa landscapes and wineries. The two singly and jointly instruct individuals, families, and businesses.

In 2017, The New York Times listed their tours as one of the top 10 photography adventures in the world.

Those classes come in two versions.

The shorter is a 3-hour experience called “The Art of Seeing,” which involves exploration in the Napa landscape to learn camera functions and how to see differently.

The longer is a 6-hour experience called “Make Art of My Day.”

Waldinger said it involves a “first-class lunch, an exclusive wine tasting, several tutorials, and the creation of a leather-bound book of the photos” that the guests and Downey and Waldinger have taken.

Keiko Abella, a Napa resident, said three generations of her family enjoyed the 6-hour experience with Waldinger.

“My parents, our six-year-old, and my husband and I all learned something and had a good time. Janna is very patient and helpful. We went out to Lake Hennessey, which is beautiful, and Janna taught us how to take pictures with our iPhones as well as a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera,” said Abella.

Abella said Waldinger is relaxed, friendly, and easy to work with.

Downey said creating the photography adventures gives the two an avenue to share Napa’s “beautiful natural world.”

“(At the same time, we’re) teaching composition, light and the deep appreciation of photography to people of all ages and abilities. We enjoy customizing the adventures to our guests’ preferences to include the stunning landscape, architecture, wine, and culinary worlds,” said Downey.

Partnerships lead to friendships

Waldinger said that after 25 years in Napa, the two have made lasting relationships with clients “because they have been well served.”

“I credit my father and mother for being great mentors, both artistically and in service to the community,” said Waldinger.

Waldinger’s grandfather and father were both photographers.

“My father, Art Waldinger, was also a building contractor. When I was five, he gave me a camera and a tool kit,” said Waldinger. “At seven, I became his assistant in the studio. At 14, I had camera in hand working with my father, shooting portraits, social events, weddings, and bar mitzvahs. The tool kit was early training for repairing the world,” said Waldinger.

Waldinger later earned a B.A. in sculpture at the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Downey gained some of his storytelling skills earning a B.A. in theater at Florida State University. He later earned a Master of Fine Arts in dramatic writing from New York University.

“One of the things that’s different about working with Lowell and Janna is that they’re artists,” said Anthony Hsu, CEO of Maxville Lake Wines in St. Helena, and a client of the business.

“Their approach is very deep and they communicate with you on a highly intellectual basis. They’re also very helpful and collaborative. Yet they’re clear. They let you know exactly what they’ll do, but you have a choice to pick and choose what you need,” said Hsu.

Nanette and Valentin Humer, co-owners of Salute Santé! Grapeseed Oil, a Napa-based grapeseed oil producer, said they first met Downey and Waldinger through their son’s preschool.

“As our sons grew up together, we got to know them and understand they were artists, which made them wonderful photographers. We started coming to them for our product and lifestyle food shots. Inevitably, a great dinner would turn into a photo shoot. Lowell and Janna know exactly what angles to use,” said Valentin Humer.

Nanette Humer said one of the things she likes best about working with Downey and Waldinger is “they believe in our product and we believe in theirs.”

“We always recommend them. Nothing is just a pat shot with them. There’s always a goal, an objective behind their photos,” said Nanette Humer.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to include the correct street name for the location of Art & Clarity. 

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com

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